Belfast Telegraph

Euro 2016: Northern Ireland confident of glory against Germany in Paris - they come not in hope but in expectation...

Emboldened by their Ukraine win, NI fans are in high spirits in the French capital and anticipating another night to remember against Germany

By Adrian Rutherford

A group of Northern Ireland fans struggle to control their flag after stopping for a photograph at the Arc de Triomphe on a wet Parisian morning.

>>Live Match coverage - Northern Ireland v Germany<<

The heat of Nice and thunderstorms of Lyon have been left behind as the Euro 2016 road-trip pitches up in the French capital.

The cold, miserable, breezy Monday in Paris could pass for an average day in Belfast.

Eventually Justin Turner and his friends get the flag straightened out and soon they have another photograph for the France 2016 scrapbook.

Here in Paris, it is the eve of Northern Ireland’s titanic clash with Germany, and excitement is building.

Flashes of green and white jump out from the hordes of tourists strolling along the Champs-Elysees.

At the western end, the Arc de Triomphe, a gateway to Paris built to commemorate Napoleon’s victories, is a popular stop-off.

Justin’s flag has a now iconic image of Michael O’Neill being hoisted aloft by his players on the night they qualified for the Euros.

Above it the Dare to Dream call to arms is written in large green letters.

For so long fans have dreamed of days like this.

A win over world champions Germany at the Parc des Princes will put Northern Ireland in the next round.

A draw will probably do it too, while even a narrow defeat should ensure the adventure goes on.

“I’m hopeful, but I’ve also got my fingers crossed on a couple of other results, hoping that we might get through with the three points,” says Justin.

“As long as the Germans don’t thrash us we’ll be okay, but I’m confident that we can get a draw.”

That is the general consensus among the thousands of supporters piling into Paris for this evening’s game.

They are coming not in hope, but in expectation.

Justin arrived on June 9 and has been to six Euro 2016 games so far, including both of Northern Ireland’s matches.

Also part of the group is Michael Wilkinson and his Bulgarian-born girlfriend Anna Dimitrova.

“Bulgaria don’t qualify very often so my second best team is Northern Ireland,” Anna explained.

“I enjoy watching them, but the best thing has been the atmosphere — people having good fun and enjoying things.”

The Green and White Army have provided a colourful, noisy backdrop to the team’s Euro campaign.

Their conduct has won the hearts of the host cities and rival supporters.

Yesterday, a group of Portuguese fans passing by stopped to request a photograph with Justin and his friends.

Also in Paris are JD McIlwaine and his wife Claire and daughter, two-year-old Betty.

JD is a member of Hillsborough Northern Ireland Supporters’ Club, and has been travelling around France by car.

“It has been great — it is just a pity we couldn’t have brought the weather from Nice,” he said.

“I was surprised by how good Lyon was in terms of its food culture.

“In terms of the football the first game was a let-down, the second game was brilliant and hopefully tomorrow is just as good.”

JD has followed Northern Ireland for the last 32 years, since he was four, and has never known such interest.

“I do the tickets for our club and I haven’t seen demand as great as it is at the minute,” he added.

“I hope it’s going to stay like that — that it won’t tail off again like it has in the past.”

Many fans made a quick exit from Lyon after Thursday’s win over Ukraine, opting to spend the weekend in Paris.

Others were still arriving yesterday, more are due in today.

One man who was heading in the opposite direction was Adam Greer, who was en route to the airport  to catch his flight back to Belfast.

He and his friends booked their flights to France before the draw was made in December, without knowing when Northern Ireland would be playing.

Unluckily, two of the games fell a day either side of their trip.

“We were here from last Monday.

“We stayed here then travelled down to Lyon for the match,” said Adam.

“I’m absolutely devastated to be going home — I wish I was staying.

“We had booked flights as soon as we qualified, before the draw was made, and opted for Monday to Monday.

“Unfortunately the only match that was on was the Ukraine one, but we went to it and it was amazing.

“We’ve had an unbelievable time.”

Northern Ireland face a formidable test against Germany, winners of the 2014 World Cup.

They have also been crowned European champions on three occasions, most recently in 1996, and are among the favourites this time.

But Scott Colville, who has travelled with his pals Tommy Thompson, William Colville and Rodney English, is in confident mood.

“It should be a special atmosphere tomorrow, especially when we put the Germans to bed — we’ll get a point at least,” he declared.

William added: “The Germans haven’t been great - they never turned up against Poland whereas we played very, very well in our last game.

“We might have enough points to do us anyway, but I’m confident we’ll be in the next round.”

If Northern Ireland progress, a date with Wales back in Paris on Saturday, or more likely against hosts France in Lyon on Sunday, awaits.

One fan stopped to chat but was reluctant to give his name.

He told his wife he was going to work in England for the week, but instead flew over to Paris with his friends for the game.

“I’ll tell her when I get back — she’ll be OK about it,” he says, somewhat nervously.

It is understandable that fans do not want to miss an occasion like this.

Gordon Jamison from Dromore in Co Down has been a supporter for 40 years, and believes these are the best times since the glory days of the 1982 World Cup finals in Spain.

“A few years ago, when things weren’t going so well for the team, we could never have dreamt of this,” said Gordon.

“It has been a brilliant experience, topped off by the other night in Lyon.

“I will always think back to Spain 1982, which I don’t think will ever be topped, but these are special days.”

Belfast Telegraph