Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland v Finland: This is the biggest game of my career to date: Oliver Norwood

By Stuart McKinley

Oliver Norwood knows exactly how significant Northern Ireland's Euro 2016 qualifying clash with Finland is - and the midfield ace has made no attempt to play it down.

Indeed, the Reading man has instead gone the opposite way, building tomorrow's game up as the most important that he has ever played in.

At almost 24-years-old and with 21 caps to his name, the Manchester-born star - who qualifies through his paternal grandparents - is now among the group of established players in the Northern Ireland squad and while he was involved in the draw in Portugal and the victory over Russia in the 2014 World Cup qualifiers, with the Euro 2016 finals a very realistic target, facing Finland is a much bigger prospect than those memorable nights.

"For me personally it's probably the biggest game I've ever been involved in in my career, which is something that is exciting," said Norwood.

"These are the nights you live for as a player, the games you want to play in, the big games and a chance to really put a marker down in the group and try to get further away from fourth place."

With the top two teams in the group qualifying automatically for the expanded 2016 European Championships and the third placed team guaranteed a play-off, victory for Northern Ireland would give them an eight-point cushion over the Finns at the halfway stage and they could then start to think about challenging Hungary and Romania for a guaranteed trip to France.

And that is what Norwood is aiming for.

"You don't want to look at it and put too much pressure on the result, but there is no hiding away from the fact that it's a massive game," he said.

"If we win it we'll put ourselves eight points above Finland and it gives us a bit of security, which would be nice.

"It's a massive game and it's the first game on a Sunday at Windsor Park as well, which is history in itself."

PROBABLE TEAMS: Northern Ireland: Roy Carroll, Conor McLaughlin, Gareth McAuley, Jonny Evans, Aaron Hughes, Chris Baird, Oliver Norwood, Steven Davis, Chris Brunt, Jamie Ward, Kyle Lafferty.

FINLAND: Niki Maenpaa, Niklas Moisander, Jere Uronen, Thomas Lam, Jukka Raitala, Roman Eremenko, Tim Sparv, Joona Toivio, Alexander Ring, Teemu Pukki, Riku Riski.

e NORTHERN Ireland's under-18 Schoolboys beat Scotland 2-0 in the Centenary Shield yesterday, with Brad Lyons and Andrew Hoey scoring the goals in the first half.

Belfast Telegraph