Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

We can still make World Cup, says captain Hughes

Aaron Hughes applauds the Northern Ireland fans after the 2-0 defeat at the hands of Slovenia

Resolute skipper Aaron Hughes is confident he can still fulfil a dream by leading out his country at the 2012 World Cup finals in South Africa — despite Saturday’s agonising defeat to Slovenia.

Northern Ireland are languishing in fifth position in Group Three after two defeats and one draw.

Qualification is now a tall order but Hughes admits it can be achieved.

"The defeat in Slovenia makes it more difficult to qualify for the finals, but I don't think it's all over," concedes Hughes.

"Yes, it's going to be tough and we can't afford any more slip-ups, but we can still get ourselves back in contention in the group.

"A few results have to go our way, but I think there'll be a few twists and turns in this group, so we can get back in the race.

"Six points against San Marino in our next two games, will get us back in the mix.”

Hughes continued: "The lads are naturally disappointed after Saturday, but Wednesday's game is a chance to get it out of our systems.

"We'll draw a line under this result, get to Belfast and start afresh again. I don't think I'll have a great deal to do to get the lads up for Wednesday — they will do that themselves.

"We all know how important this game is so they'll generate their own desire and will to bounce back. They all want to put things right.”

Hughes will have a new centre half partner — likely to be Gareth McAuley — for Wednesday’s game against San Marino as Jonny Evans is suspended.

"We'll miss Jonny — he'll always be missed — but that's the way it goes," added Hughes.

"We're also missing Stephen Craigan, but we have strength and depth in defence. At times we could put out two back-fours, so whoever plays will bring experience and quality to the team.

"We have options with Gareth McAuley and Chris Baird.”

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