N Ireland have something to prove

Northern Ireland midfielder Chris Brunt

Brunt has been training with the Northern Ireland squad at Parc de Montchervet in St Georges de Reneins

West Brom midfielder Chris Brunt has won 48 caps for Northern Ireland and played in eight of their 10 qualifying games for Euro 2016, but missed out on their squad for the finals through injury after rupturing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in March. He is in France as a pundit for BBC Sport.

The Northern Ireland dressing room is normally a noisy place to be around but it was very quiet after our defeat by Poland at Stade de Nice on Sunday.

Everyone was totally deflated. It felt like a massive anti-climax after all the build-up to Euro 2016 because the boys were so disappointed, not just because we lost but with the way we played.

It is something I have experienced plenty of times before as a player – you always bounce back in the end but, straight after the final whistle, everyone was thinking about what had just gone wrong.

All I could do was talk to a few of them and try to give them a bit of a lift.


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I have actually been with the squad all week because I have been doing rehab work with them after my knee injury.

Obviously I would love to have been playing myself. That was not possible, but it has still been nice to be around the team and see what has been going on.

There was an amazing atmosphere at the stadium in Nice, with both sets of fans mixed together and enjoying themselves. It was a great experience, bar the result.

‘We talked about things we could do better’

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Poland 1-0 Northern Ireland highlights

There was no big inquest straight after the game because Michael O’Neill is the sort of manager who thinks a lot about things before he says anything.

Our training base is near Lyon – about 200km from Nice. I travelled back with them and it was pretty late by the time we got back there on Sunday.

We had a team meeting on Monday morning about what had happened and talked about things we could do better.

Michael was his usual self but I think he was as disappointed as everyone else. We were on a 12-game unbeaten run and you get used to not losing – it had not happened for such a long time.

Everyone was still down about it but the message at the end was that match is gone now. We have to draw a line under it and move on.

Now it is just a case of getting everybody ready again, mentally and physically, for Ukraine in Lyon on Thursday.

‘The players want to prove a point’


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No matter whether it is for club or country, when you lose a game you want the next one to come around as quickly as possible – especially if you don’t play well.

The last time we lost a competitive match, to Romania in November 2014, we had to wait until the following March to play again. At least this time we only have to wait four days to try to put things right.

The boys put in a lot of work on Sunday and it was pretty warm in Nice so I think they will have a pretty easy week and just make sure they are ready to go in that one.

I don’t think there will be a problem with the team’s confidence or morale. Everyone is so disappointed with the first game that they want to prove a point this time.

By the time Thursday comes around, everyone will be looking forward to the Ukraine game as much as they were the Poland one.

‘We have been here and done it before’


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NI will be ‘positive’ against Ukraine

We never really got into the Poland game in an attacking sense, and did not create very much.

That was not like us. In qualifying and in the friendlies leading up to the tournament, when we have had the ball on the break, we have been very dangerous and have always looked like scoring.

I am sure Michael will look at that going into the Ukraine game because it is a game we have to win. If we don’t, we are left with having to beat Germany, the world champions, to get out of our group.

There is no real pressure on us, though, because nobody expects us to do well in France – apart from ourselves. We have got expectations as a squad that we can do well, and losing to Poland has not changed that.

We will have to be back to our usual standards against Ukraine but I know we will be ready for it. We will know exactly what we have to do.

The boys came through some big occasions in qualifying, for example when we could have made it to the finals with a victory over Hungary at home but instead dug out a draw with Kyle Lafferty’s stoppage-time goal.

Then there was the night we beat Greece and did clinch our place in France. The way we approached that game, and the way we got the result we needed, is exactly what is required against Ukraine, so we have been there and done it before.

Chris Brunt was speaking to BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan in France.

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