World Cup 2018: Play-off confirmation 'maybe took edge off NI's game' - O'Neill

NI players acknowledge their 2,000-strong travelling support after the game
Northern Ireland last reached the World Cup finals in 1986

Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill says knowing they had sealed a spot in the World Cup play-offs before kick-off "maybe took the edge off" their performance in the 1-0 loss to Norway.

The defeat means they may not be seeded in the play-offs draw on 17 October.

"We got confirmation before the game and it maybe took the tension out of the situation," said O'Neill.

"When we look at the campaign as a whole though it's been a very successful one."

A Chris Brunt own goal gave Norway victory but Northern Ireland were certain of being in next month's play-offs after Scotland could only draw 2-2 in Slovenia earlier on Sunday.

O'Neill's side finished second behind world champions Germany in Group C and go into the play-offs as one of the eight best runners-up from the nine European qualifying competition groups.

The four highest-ranked countries in the Fifa rankings issued on 16 October will be seeded, with either Portugal or Switzerland already certain to be one of those teams, depending on which of them finishes second in Group B.

Northern Ireland currently hold their highest ever position in the standings, 20th, but are likely to slip down the rankings following Thursday's defeat by Germany and the loss to Norway.

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NI manager Michael O'Neill is proud of his side's achievement in reaching the World Cup play-offs

"It was hard not to keep an eye on events in Slovenia but our focus was always on ourselves," said O'Neill.

"It was not easy because we have been in a situation of competing against other teams you are not playing against in other groups, which is very complex and tricky.

"Over the last couple of days the players have obviously been looking at all the scenarios as well while you are trying to keep them focused on the game."

Brunt's 71st-minute own goal after goalkeeper Michael McGovern failed to deal with a Stefan Johansen cross proved NI's downfall at the Ullevaal Stadium.

"I'm disappointed to lose the game and it would have been nice to keep another clean sheet but it was a difficult night as the confirmation before the game maybe took a wee bit of the edge off it.

"It was a good thing in the sense that the players who were on yellow cards did not pick up another booking and were able to tip-toe through the game a bit.

"It would have been nice to play a little better but we shouldn't be too down on ourselves as our objective has been achieved. We always felt 19 points would be enough and that proved to be the case."

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Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis says the dream is still alive

Northern Ireland must now wait to discover who their opponents will be for the two-legged play-offs, which will take place from 9-14 November.

"We are proud of our achievements so far in making it out of the group and hopefully the footballing gods will be kind to us in terms of the draw," O'Neill added.

"We are a good away team but it may benefit us to play the second game at home. We're not going to win a play-off with two high-scoring games so we'll have to make the games tight.

"We will be the smallest nation of the eight taking part so there will be an expectation among opposing supporters that they will beat us so we can use that to our advantage. We look forward to the draw and the challenge that lies ahead."

Scores, Results & Fixtures

Sunday 8th October 2017

As It Stood

A

TeamPWDLFAGDPts
1France96211651120
2Sweden96122671919
3Netherlands95131912716
4Bulgaria94051318-512
5Belarus9126519-145
6Luxembourg9126725-185

B

TeamPWDLFAGDPts
1Switzerland99002351827
2Portugal98013042624
3Hungary93151314-110
4Faroe Islands9234415-119
5Latvia9117318-154
6Andorra9117219-174

C

TeamPWDLFAGDPts
1Germany1010004343930
2Northern Ireland106131761119
3Czech Rep104331710715
4Norway104151716113
5Azerbaijan103161019-910
6San Marino100010251-490

D

TeamPWDLFAGDPts
1Serbia95311910918
2Wales9450135817
3R. of Ireland9441116516
4Austria93331312112
5Georgia9054813-55
6Moldova9027422-182

E

TeamPWDLFAGDPts
1Poland1081128141425
2Denmark106222081220
3Montenegro105142012816
4Romania103431210213
5Armenia102171026-167
6Kazakhstan10037626-203

F

TeamPWDLFAGDPts
1England108201831526
2Slovakia106041771018
3Scotland105321712518
4Slovenia10433127515
5Lithuania10136720-136
6Malta10019325-221

G

TeamPWDLFAGDPts
1Spain98103533225
2Italy96212081220
3Albania94141012-213
4Israel94051014-412
5Macedonia92251115-48
6Liechtenstein9009135-340

H

TeamPWDLFAGDPts
1Belgium98103963325
2Greece9441136716
3Bos-Herze942322121014
4Estonia93241217-511
5Cyprus9315914-510
6Gibraltar9009343-400

I

TeamPWDLFAGDPts
1Iceland9612147719
2Croatia9522134917
3Ukraine9522137617
4Turkey94231211114
5Finland9225711-48
6Kosovo9018322-191
View full World Cup Qualifying - European tables

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