Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Faroe Islands v Northern Ireland: Goliath label sits uneasily with Aaron Hughes

Northern Ireland's Aaron Hughes and Jonny Evans go through their paces during training in Torshavn yesterday

Proud skipper Aaron Hughes has enjoyed many fine nights leading Northern Ireland to shock wins over European heavyweights.

England, Spain, Sweden and Denmark have all been put to the sword at fortress Windsor Park.

On each occasion Northern Ireland treated the match in a similar way a lower league team does when it inflicts a giant killing on a Premier League outfit in the FA or Carling Cup.

This afternoon, though, in Toftir, in the middle of the north Atlantic ocean, Northern Ireland are suddenly cast in the role of a Goliath facing down the brave David in the shape of the Faroe Islands.

Hughes certainly doesn’t want to face the ignominy of losing to a smaller nation and will draw on his experience at Fulham over the last few years when they have managed to overcome lower league teams in Cup competitions.

“This will be similar to one of those big Cup ties — where a giant takes on a minnow,” says Hughes, who wins his 74th cap this afternoon.

“I don’t think we are a giant in any way when it comes to our standing in world football but we are expected to win.

“Everybody thinks we’ll just turn up and win, but that’s not the case. We’ll all have to play to the best of our ability to get a win.

“We’re in an unusual predicament this time because we are the favourites — that’s not normal for us.

“We are expected to do well against the Faroes because they’ve lost every game and people just think it will be another win for us and seven points on the board.

“These though are the games where if you don’t perform then a nasty shock awaits.

That’s not to cover our backs in case anything goes wrong — it’s just true and a fact. If you don’t prepare properly, don’t do the things right, if we force and rush things that’s when things become unstuck.

“We need to be patient, play our own game, work towards getting a goal and if we do that we’ll win the game and everybody will be happy.”

The Faroes Islands Football Association have decided to take this game away from their national stadium in Torshavn, where they play most of their games, to a compact ground in Toftir — an hour’s drive from the capital.

It has a capacity of just over 3,000 and the majority of the supporters are expected to be cheering on Northern Ireland.

Hughes insists performing in a tight little ground will hold no fears for him or his team-mates.

“We’ve all played on small pitches before, difficult surfaces and poor conditions, but I’m sure this will be fine,” says Hughes.

Northern Ireland, under Hughes’ leadership, have made a terrific start to their Euro 2012 qualifying collecting four points from their opening two games and victory tonight would set them up nicely for a real crack at qualification next year.

However, Hughes isn’t allowing himself to dream just yet of leading out Northern Ireland in Poland and the Ukraine in two years time but he points to Slovakia and Slovenia, who qualified from Northern Ireland’s group in the World Cup campaign, as evidence it is possible.

“Everybody is looking at Italy, Serbia and Slovenia for this group, but I think our last campaign, when Slovakia and Slovenia qualified, showed that a group doesn’t always go to form,” insisted Hughes.

“We hope to be the Slovenia or Slovakia this time out and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be after our decent start.”

Kerr’s part-time love: Page 61

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