Date Posted: Friday 11 October 2019 7:17
Michael O'Neill admitted that the odds were firmly against Northern Ireland qualifying directly for Euro 2020 following a painful late-afternoon defeat to the Netherlands on Thursday night.
The Green and White Army dreamed of one of the most famous results in their history when Josh Magennis led them ahead in the 75th minute at De Kuip in Rotterdam.
But Memphis Depay equalized five minutes later and tied it all up with the second of two goals at halftime after Luuk De Jong put the Netherlands ahead.
The 3-1 defeat was a turnaround for Northern Ireland, who said from the outset that the minimum requirement was four points on the pair with the Dutch, who are due to arrive in Belfast next month.
Instead, they continue to pursue an unlikely maximum bid against the Netherlands at Windsor Park and Germany in Frankfurt, leaving play-off a more likely hope.
"You don't have to be a mathematician to see that we need six points and it will be very difficult," said O'Neill.
“They are devastated in the dressing room. We knew the meaning of a point here, we knew the meaning of three points, but to get nothing, we have to look at the last two games. "
Devastated was a word that O'Neill used more than once to describe Northern Ireland's mood at the end of a match in which they executed their game plan admirably, using high pressure to disrupt the Holland game.
For long periods, they frustrated the hosts and put pressure on the shoulders of a young team that wanted to make sure the Dutch did not miss the third major tournament in a row.
"It was very difficult for us to lose two goals at the end of the game, having defended for so long and advancing in the game," said O'Neill.
“It was a combination of fatigue on our part and the quality of the opposition.
"They were able to make substitutions that strengthened them and that ultimately proved to be the difference."
Ronald Koeman had described Magennis's goal as an "ax in the neck" for the Netherlands, but was proud of the way they recovered.
"We can't fight them," he said. “We had a lot of ball possession but we couldn't do much and we were sloppy.
“It was difficult with the waste of time and faults, but we must respect them. They have less quality, but get the most results for what they have. "
O'Neill pointed to the lack of depth in his team, with Koeman able to feature De Jong, Donyell Malen and Donny Van De Beek in the end while he turned to Magennis, Jordan Thompson and Tom Flanagan.
"They attract players like Malen and De Jong and Van De Beek, who have been courted by clubs from all over Europe, and we hired two guys who play in English League One," said O'Neill.
“I hope people recognize this. It was a fantastic performance, but in the end it was disappointing.
"We don't want to be a back pat team and say we came here and we did well, but we lost. We want to be a better team than that."