Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Victory over Iceland is a must to keep Euro dream alive

Nigel Worthington enjoys a laugh at yesterday's press conference but will he still be laughing after tonight's game in Iceland?

If ever Northern Ireland needed a victory, it is this evening in Reykjavik.

In the land of geysers, glaciers and stunning waterfalls Northern Ireland's European Championship qualifying dreams could, quite literally, melt away.

Win and we go top of Group F, lose or draw and it is a fact we can all but forget about ordering Swiss francs and euros for next summer.

Nigel Worthington, the Northern Ireland manager, will argue until he is blue in the face that there are still plenty of points on offer after this game and we'll continue to live in hope until it's mathematically impossible to reach the finals, but realistically if the team are to stand any chance of qualification victory is essential tonight in the Laugardalsvollur Stadium.

And it will be against a side, Northern Ireland are more than capable of beating - despite Iceland having a few Premier League stars, Ingimarsson and Hreidarsson, in their squad.

They are currently ranked 117th in the world compared to our 27th and after last year's 3-0 win in Belfast they haven't tasted victory in these qualifiers.

Even little Liechtenstein beat them earlier this year.

If Northern Ireland are to hit back in style after Saturday's debacle in Latvia then they have to create a little bit of history.

For Northern Ireland have never won in Iceland, which is the same size as England but only has a population of 329,000. And nearly three quarters of those people live in the south west Reykjavik area.

Northern Ireland have twice lost 1-0 at the Laugardalsvollur Stadium. The first time was in 1977 on Pat Jennings' birthday and the second occasion was in 2000 when a Roy Carroll clanger gifted Iceland the win.

After the appalling performance and defeat in Riga, Worthy's team received a huge amount of good fortune on Saturday night with Spain and Sweden only earning a point in their respective matches.

Luck could be on our side once again tonight as it is unlikely lethal predator Eidur Gudjohnsen, who destroyed us with his one man show at Windsor Park last year, will not start tonight. The best he can hope for is a place on the bench.

But all that will count for little if David Healy and co fail to take advantage against an Iceland side who are high in confidence after their impressive 1-1 draw with Spain.

The players, given a painful kick up the backside in Riga, know there will be changes - there has to be with Stephen Craigan, who should not have been dropped in the first place, Warren Feeney and Chris Brunt returning.

There has been a positive response in training and now they must convert all their enthusiasm, skill, passion and desire to the pitch at the Laugardalsvollur Stadium.

Northern Ireland have raised their own expectation bar with their positive results over Spain, Denmark and Sweden in this campaign and previously England in the World Cup qualifiers and we all thought our reputation for losing to teams well down the FIFA rankings had been eradicated ? obviously not judging by Riga.

So boys, treat Iceland as if it were Spain or England.

It is not going to be easy - yet another intense battle against huge blond giants.

Northern Ireland though are renowned for hitting straight back in scintillating fashion after a disappointing result. Think of games away to Wales and Poland and at home to Spain. That is what must happen tonight - three points please. It is time to deliver - a nation expects.

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