Northern Ireland’s1982 World Cup hero Gerry Armstrong insists the boys in green can deliver a shock against Poland in their first ever appearance at the Euro finals.
Armstrong, scorer of the goal that sunk hosts Spain in Valencia 34 years ago, believes Michael O’Neill’s battlers have the pride and passion to triumph in their opening Group C game in Nice on Sunday week.
The legendary striker was speaking at yesterday’s draw for the SuperCupNI international youth tournament in Belfast.
He said: “I see similarities between this team and Billy Bingham’s side back in my day.”
Armstrong, now a Sky TV commentator and analyist, added: “Bingham told us to believe we could beat anyone and we did not ever doubt him.
“Michael has engendered the same spirit in his players.
“They have dared to dream in qualifying and look where that took them - right to the very top of their group. It’s fantastic what he has already achieved and there is no reason why it shouldn’t continue.”
He said the class of 2016 are well grounded and unaffected by all the hype surrounding them.
“Poland are tipped to get out of the group along with Germany but I honestly believe we can stage an upset along the way and throw the cat among the pigeons.
“The players know their strengths and weaknesses. That is so important. That is why I think they can take things to another level on the big stage.”
Armstrong, who played for Real Mallorca after his exploits in a green jersey in the 82 World Cup finals, is pleased to see Espanyol and Real Sociedad sending representatives to compete in the inaugural Under-21 SuperCupNI next month.
Celtic and Everton are involved too with newcomers Celtic playing Real at Ballymena Showgrounds on Thursday, July 21, while Everton tackle Espanyol at Coleraine Showgrounds the same evening.
“This will be a fabulous new venture which will lift the standard of competition even higher,” he said.
“That’s some achievement considering what the organisers have managed since the tournament started in 1983.
“They have pulled out all the stops to present a superb line up in all three competitions.
“I watched Right to Dream from Ghana play last year and they were sensational - breath of fresh air.”
And Armstrong maintains the standard has lifted the performance of local teams too.
“The benefits are enormous. Playing against quality teams from around the world has inspired home grown talent and we have seen County teams coming through to reach finals and lift silverware.”