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WALES - N.IRELAND

Northern Ireland have the lowdown on “huge player” Bale

Michael O'Neill is counting on more defensive heroics to counter Gareth Bale in Saturday's British "cup tie" against Wales in the last 16 of Euro 2016 in Paris.

Northern Ireland have the lowdown on “huge player” Bale
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Northern Ireland coach Michael O'Neill is counting on more defensive heroics to counter the threat posed by Gareth Bale in Saturday's British 'cup tie' against Wales in the last 16 of Euro 2016 in Paris.

Norn Iron reached the knockout stages as one of four best third-place sides having come through a challenging group featuring world champions Germany, Poland and Ukraine. In what is their first major finals in 30 years, the Northern Irish are one win away from matching their quarter-final run at the 1958 World Cup.

“We understand the significance of playing another home nation but the prize is massive for us as it is for Wales”, O'Neill told reporters on Friday. “I think the game will have a bit of cup tie feel to it obviously at the knockout stage of the tournament. Wales go into the cup tie as favourites I'd imagine as they won their group, but that position suits us and more importantly we feel we're in a good position to qualify”.

Although they lost 1-0 to both Poland and Germany in the group stage, Northern Ireland's impressive rearguard efforts ultimately enabled them to pip the likes of Turkey and Albania to the final knockout berth. And O'Neill knows it will take a similar performance - notably from goalkeeper Michael McGovern, to frustrate Gareth Bale, who is the tournament's joint-leading scorer with three goals.

“Gareth's a huge player for Wales, he's shown that in the tournament already and he showed that in the qualification. But I've had that task as a manager before with having to try and deal with Cristiano Ronaldo, so I know how you deal with it. We also had it in the opening game with Robert Lewandowski. When you come to this level of the tournament you're always going to have to deal with special players. We played against a team (Germany) on Tuesday night full of world-class players and defensively we gave a performance that was fantastic, so we'll be ready to deal with Gareth Bale”, O'Neill said.

Captain Steven Davis, whose two goals against Greece last October secured Northern Ireland's qualification, is well aware just how important Saturday's game is for both sides. The Southampton midfielder drew comparisons to the recent rise of both teams with Northern Ireland at an all-time high of 25th in the latest world rankings.

“I think both sets of players are going to be extremely pumped up because of what's riding on it and what's at stake,” he said. “I think there are a lot of similarities between the two teams in terms of the progress we've made in the past couple of years. I think there will be an edge to the game because of what's riding on it and both sets of players believe they can progress to the next stage. It'll be a great occasion, one we're thoroughly looking forward to and we can't wait to get out there”.