Northern Ireland World Cup qualification becoming "realistic"

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill was speaking following his side's 2-0 win over Norway at Windsor Park

Michael O'Neill

Image: Niall Carson/PA Wire/PA Images

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill says his side's hopes of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia have become more realistic after their victory over Norway on Sunday evening.

O'Neill's team remain second in Group C, two points clear of nearest rivals Czech Republic and five points adrift of reigning world champions, Germany.

Despite losing the opening game of his Northern Ireland tenure against Norway, O'Neill says last night's victory is a momentous step toward qualification. 

"[Qualification] starts to become realistic once you start to put distance between yourselves and the other teams," he told Sky Sports. "That's what we did with Norway who are seven points behind us. That's lot to make up. 

"There's still a lot of games and you have to negotiate each one. None of them are going to be easy and we need our players fit. We had a few injuries for this game and we were a little bit concerned that we might not have had as strong a bench as we would have had previously.

"But certainly there's a great belief inside the dressing room and I think there's a fantastic belief in the stadium as well that we can qualify. We just have to do everything possible to give ourselves the best chance of doing so."

Northern Ireland's Jamie Ward scores his side's first goal of the game during the World Cup Qualifying match at Windsor Park, Belfast. Image: Niall Carson/PA Wire/PA Images

Germany and the Czech Republic both picked up wins over Azerbaijan and San Marino respectively, but O'Neill said his side were focused only on their own display.

"Delighted with the performance. We expected a tough game, it was a bit of a bruising encounter at times. We had to deal with a big physical team, to be fair.

"They came and picked the biggest side available to them to combat us, but we played some great football. We scored two very, very good goals and dealt with everything that was thrown at us."

Northern Ireland now face back-to-back trips to Azerbaijan and San Marino, before their crunch clash with the Czech Republic at Windsor Park in September.