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Oliver Norwood's belief is unshaken as he looks forward to Greece fixture

Midfielder confident of sealing Euro 2016 place against Greeks despite key absences

By Steven Beacom

Published 06/10/2015

Date with destiny: Oliver Norwood can’t wait to take on Greece in the crunch clash at Windsor Park
Date with destiny: Oliver Norwood can’t wait to take on Greece in the crunch clash at Windsor Park

Oliver Norwood is relishing Northern Ireland's date with destiny. Thursday night. October 8, 2015. Windsor Park.

Beat Greece and Michael O'Neill's men will be on their way to France for the Euro 2016 finals and Norwood will have played a massive part.

The Reading midfielder has become one of Northern Ireland's most important players and on Thursday night he is set to overtake the suspended Chris Baird and Conor McLaughlin in terms of minutes played for the team in Group F.

The 24-year-old is one of only five players to have featured in all eight qualifiers to date.

But with Kyle Lafferty serving a one-match ban along with Baird and McLaughlin, that number will become two by the time the Belfast showdown against Greece has kicked off with Norwood and Gareth McAuley Northern Ireland's only two ever presents in the campaign.

Ahead of a monumental occasion at Windsor, nerves are starting to fray amongst the Green and White Army, especially with so many key performers unavailable.

Not for Norwood. One month on from the 1-1 draw at home to Hungary, which kept Northern Ireland top of Group F and crucially four points clear of the third-placed Magyars with two games left, the former Manchester United ace is in positive mood about taking on Greece.

"We have been confident the whole way through the campaign and that's the way we are feeling going into the Greek game," said Norwood.

"Had we not got a point in our last game against Hungary, we would probably be a bit more nervous, but we still have breathing space over Hungary in third and our destiny is in our own hands with two games to go which is exactly the way we would want it."

He is just as optimistic when the interview diverts to supporter worries about Northern Ireland's missing players.

"That's why you have a squad of 23. Throughout this campaign this has been a squad effort," Norwood stated emphatically.

"It has not just been about the players who start the match. We have substitutes who have come on and made a big impact and other players, who when called upon, have delivered big performances. There is a real togetherness amongst all the players and we know that everyone is important.

"We have some really good players in the squad who have been unfortunate not to play more in the campaign, but now there will be an opportunity for some of them to come in. We have more than enough to win this game and seal our qualification for the Euro finals."

It was a year ago that O'Neill's team won 2-0 in Athens, with as accomplished a performance on the road as you could wish to see.

That victory was Northern Ireland's third in a row at the start of the campaign and gave the side belief that they could qualify.

Norwood states, though, that the game on Thursday will be completely different and while confident about the outcome insists that the home team must be wary of the Greeks, who are bottom of the table and without a win in their eight fixtures so far.

"That was a great result and great night for us but this will be a totally different game. We are at home for starters and hopefully will be able to take the game to them and put them under pressure," said the midfielder.

"The game in Athens was fantastic because it gave us nine points out of nine at the start of the campaign and was great for our confidence.

"Playing Greece last year, we had won our opening two matches and I had a good feeling going into the game and for us to come away with a 2-0 win showed what we were capable of in the group.

"When the draw was made Greece would have been favourites along with Romania so to see how things have worked out for them has been surprising.

"I'm sure they will be disappointed and we have to be wary on Thursday because it will be like facing a wounded animal. They won't want to go through the campaign having not won a game and we have to make sure that their first win doesn't come against us.

"The match against Greece is going to be a massive occasion. The fans will create an incredible atmosphere and it will be up to us to produce a performance to fulfil what we set out to do at the start of the campaign.

"These are exciting times and it is great to be part of it. What we want to do is fulfil our aim of qualification and the sooner that happens the better for everyone."

Belfast Telegraph

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