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Northern Ireland v San Marino: Steven Davis insists it'll only be a party if there's victory

By Steven Beacom

Published 08/10/2016

Smiling assassins: Northern Ireland’s captain Steven Davis (right) in training with striker Kyle Lafferty
Smiling assassins: Northern Ireland’s captain Steven Davis (right) in training with striker Kyle Lafferty

Steven Davis has enjoyed a superb international career. He gets most things right on the pitch for Northern Ireland and tends to say all the right things off it. Yesterday was a case in a point as the captain's press conference progressed.

The questions came thick and fast about playing for the first time at the new, all singing, all dancing and finally complete 18,500 all-seater Windsor Park.

Davis dealt with talk about the official opening of the stadium like the seasoned professional he is before pointing out that the result against San Marino in the World Cup qualifier was far and away the most important aspect of the evening.

"For the fans it's going to be a good night, a little bit of celebration in terms of the opening of the stadium but nobody's going to enjoy it unless we can go out, put in a performance and get the result we all want. That's our role in it," said the Southampton midfielder.

"It's great to be back at Windsor and the stadium is looking great. It's still our home but it's a new and improved home in many ways. For us though this is game is all about an opportunity to get three points. Ultimately that's what we want to try and achieve.

"In an ideal world it would be great to get an early goal to set the tone for the game but football's never as easy as that. We've watched videos of San Marino and they are going to be a difficult team to break down so we're going to have to move the ball quickly, get the ball into the box and test their goalkeeper whenever we get the chance.

"We're just going to have to remain patient and hopefully we can show our quality."

Davis added that a sparkling display and positive result against the minnows of San Marino will be a boost before the team make the trip to Germany to take on the World Champions on Tuesday night in Group C.

"In our first qualifier we got a decent point away in Prague against the Czech Republic and that's given us something to build upon," stated the skipper.

"If we can manage to win the game versus San Marino, we can go out to Germany with a lot of confidence and a lot of hope that if we can put in a performance and who knows we can maybe take something from the game. I'm looking forward to both matches."

Davis knows all about the difficulties of meeting teams Northern Ireland are expected to beat. As well as enjoying some glorious shocks as an international, he has been on the wrong end of a few as well.

He says: "Going back to the previous World Cup qualifying campaign we had disappointing results against the likes of Luxembourg. They were tough to take. A lot of criticism came on the back of them and rightly so. They were maybe a little bit of a wake-up call in many ways."

Davis savoured the experience of the Euro finals and was reminded of it at a Stormont reception for the team on Wednesday night.

"Going to Stormont seeing some of the footage from the Euros, it brought back some great memories," he said.

"It does seem like quite a long time ago even though it wasn't. Now our focus is solely on this campaign and trying to build on what we've achieved so far. Now we've had that taste of success it leaves you wanting more. That's the aim."

Davis will lead the team from the middle of the park tonight with Oliver Norwood and Paddy McNair beside him in midfield.

Michael McGovern, who is having a fine season with Norwich City, will be in goal with reliable duo Gareth McAuley and Jonny Evans operating in the heart of defence. Conor McLaughlin and Shane Ferguson are likely to be in the full back roles.

Stuart Dallas and Jamie Ward can expect game time further forward while it would no surprise to see Kyle Lafferty, Conor Washington and Josh Magennis all play up front at some stage in the match.

Before kick-off the 'Lap of Legends' will take place. There will be cheers for the likes of Pat Jennings, Harry Gregg and Sammy McIlroy, but the biggest roars will be reserved for the modern day stars - the homecoming heroes.

Northern Ireland will win. There should be no doubt about that. Any other result would be unthinkable and definitely spoil the party.

Belfast Telegraph

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