Gareth McAuley: Italy can be beaten at Windsor Park
Gareth McAuley will look to a Kiwi team mate for inspiration tomorrow night when Northern Ireland march out into an electric Windsor Park atmosphere to take on the might of Italy.
For, among McAuley’s club colleagues at Ipswich is Tommy Smith, a New Zealand defender who was part of the All Whites side who shocked the then world champions by grabbing a 1-1 draw in South Africa in the summer.
It was a result which sent shockwaves around the globe and more than played its part in the Italians’ defence of their crown coming to an abrupt end at the group stages.
Now the Azzurri head for Belfast hoping to carry on the rebuilding process that has seen them begin their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign with victories over Estonia and the Faroe Islands.
However, confidence is high in the Northern Ireland camp and there is a belief that Italy’s great name can be added to the recent Windsor Park scalps of England, Spain and Sweden.
And McAuley’s pal, Smith has assured him that Nigel Worthington’s men should have no fear.
“Tommy Smith played against them in the World Cup and he definitely thinks they are beatable,” said McAuley yesterday.
“They drew 1-1 out there (at the World Cup) but they nicked a goal and were hanging on.
“But, coming here, they are definitely beatable, they won’t relish coming here and we have to build up a bit of momentum on Friday.
He added: “We will be looking at videos and how we are going to approach the game. I know we are trying to play the high tempo closing style and try to stop them getting forward.
“You can draw heart from those results and what happened in the finals.”
While fear is something that hasn’t been part of Northern Ireland’s make-up for a few years now, not least at home no matter the opposition, McAuley feels that despite the household, world class names that litter the Italian team, it is they who will be feeling the heat more tomorrow night.
“I am expecting them to be a good tactical side and have plenty of possession,” he said.
“I know we are the home team but they have got to come and beat us. It certainly will be a tough game but, as I said, they are beatable and they’ll certainly not be looking forward to coming to Windsor on Friday.
“I know they will have looked at videos of us and how we play and I know they will not be looking forward to the high tempo, the tackles we put in and the ugly side of the game that I know we will do well.”
Such is Northern Ireland’s record at home against the big guns, there is almost an expectation that they will reap a positive result. With Spain and England having been conquered, McAuley is now gunning for Italy.
“I was on the bench for the Spain game and I was on the sofa for the England game,” he joked.
“It would be nice if we could replicate one of those nights when one of those big sides come to Belfast and get sent away with their tails between their legs.
“It’s not going to be easy but it’s still very much achieveable.”