Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland v Slovenia: European jackpot the biggest prize Evans can grasp

By Stuart McKinley

For any Manchester United fan, getting the chance to play for the club you love and to win the Premier League would be considered the ultimate career highlight.

Not Jonny Evans.

For the Northern Ireland defender, playing for his country in the finals of a European Championship or a World Cup would top the lot — even winning the Champions League.

Qualification for Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine is the target — although a possible treble this season with United, with the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League still in sight, would be up there too.

The dream will be kept alive if Northern Ireland can defeat Slovenia at Windsor Park tonight, with second place in the group still very much up for grabs.

Any other result would make life very difficult in the remaining five games of the campaign.

“I think qualifying for a major tournament with Northern Ireland would eclipse anything I would achieve with Manchester United, unless it was the treble or something like that, where we cleaned up,” said Evans.

“Definitely, it's a harder task to qualify. I think it's harder to win the Premier League or the Champions League than it is to qualify for a major tournament with, say England.

“It evens itself out in that respect.

“I do think it's harder for us to qualify for a big tournament than it would be for Manchester United to win the Champions League or the Premier League.”

The fact that United have won the Premier League 11 times and the Champions League twice since Northern Ireland last played at a major finals is proof that Evans is more likely to enjoy success at his club than with his country.

Qualification for the European Championship finals would change that, but hopes were dealt a blow after Nigel Worthington’s men went down to a 2-1 defeat against Serbia in Belgrade last Friday evening and the importance of tonight's game has gone up a notch in the wake of that result.

“It was disappointing to lose on Friday night, but you see the Serbia team, they are a great side and you have to accept that it’s going to be hard over there,” said 23-year-old Evans, who will win his 25th cap tonight.

“It was more disappointing because we were in front and couldn’t hang on.

“The home results have been a big factor in getting us close in the last couple of campaigns.

“After losing in Serbia we now have to get as many points from the home games as we can.

“We have to win this one now to get us back on track and try to qualify.”

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