Belfast Telegraph

Hungary's Zoltan Gera counts on Northern Ireland propensity to be 'very bad'

By Steven Beacom

Hungary captain Zoltan Gera is hoping that ‘unpredictable' Northern Ireland have one of their off nights when the 2016 European Championship qualifiers kick off in Budapest on Sunday.

Former Fulham and West Brom midfielder Gera, now back home with Ferencvaros, can't wait to take on a Northern Ireland side which should include his former club mates Gareth McAuley, Chris Brunt, Aaron Hughes and Chris Baird.

Normally when opponents are asked about facing Northern Ireland, the stock answer is to say ‘we'll show them respect... it won't be easy' blah, blah, blah. Often that is because the manager or player know very little about our wee country.

Clearly 35-year-old Gera is different and has followed the fortunes of Michael O'Neill's side in recent years, because he is on the money with his analysis ahead of the weekend’s clash at the new Groupama Arena.

He said: “They are unpredictable opponents, capable of playing well but also capable of very bad matches.”

Somebody sign that man up as a pundit!

Gera, who has won 77 caps and scored 23 international goals, added: “Our manager Attila Pinter has told me his ideas and plans and he is counting on me against the Northern Irish.

“I know four to five of the Northern Ireland players, I am well aware of their squad and they have good players, but I’m hoping we can make a good start to the qualifying campaign.”

Pinter, appointed to the post in December 2013, has been charged with leading Hungary to the finals of a major championships for the first time since the 1986 World Cup, also the last time Northern Ireland played at the glamour stages of a big tournament.

Like his counterpart O'Neill, Pinter is well aware of the need to open the campaign with a big result and makes no bones about his aim to reach the 2016 finals in France.

“It would be a huge boost to start well. Our team should not be ignored, we started a new strategy in January and our goal is to qualify,” said the Hungarian boss, who won three caps for his country as a player.

“We have scored in all four of our warm-up matches this year, which is important and now we must do it in the qualifiers.”

Assessing Northern Ireland's summer tour of South America, when there were narrow defeats to Chile and Uruguay, Pinter said: “The Northern Irish in previous games have been disciplined. In their clash against Chile even though they lost 2-0, Chile struggled to create and only managed to score in the last quarter of an hour. Uruguay also struggled to score against them so we have to seriously consider their threat.

“At international level, there are no easy games. We expect difficult moments against the Northern Irish, in which case we will need the help of our fans.’’

Meanwhile, goals from Robbie McDaid and Mikhail Kennedy helped the Northern Ireland U19s claw back a 2-0 deficit to draw with Iceland U19s in a friendly at Stangmore Park yesterday.

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