Belfast Telegraph

We deserve greater recognition outside Northern Ireland, says Oliver Norwood

By Steven Beacom

Midfielder Oliver Norwood has claimed that outside Northern Ireland the national team are not given the credit they deserve.

The Brighton star, on loan at Fulham, adds that he is having the time of his life playing with Michael O'Neill's side and can't wait to face World champions Germany next month at Windsor Park.

Norwood was a consistent presence in Northern Ireland's successful Euro 2016 qualifying campaign and he has continued to be an instrumental figure.

On Monday it was his assist for Jonny Evans that set Northern Ireland on their way to a 2-0 victory over the Czech Republic that secured second place in the table and surely a spot in the play-offs.

As the players left the Windsor pitch, they were cheered to the rafters by 18,000 exuberant fans.

Clearly, though, there is a feeling among the squad that while they are loved at home, there is not enough respect shown elsewhere. On the eve of the Czech match, O'Neill made the point that his side 'got our usual 15 seconds on Football Focus' in relation to coverage across the UK.

"We are definitely still underestimated by people outside of Northern Ireland," stated Norwood. "We're not begging people to give us credit but we didn't get the credit we deserved for winning our Euro qualifying group as a Pot Five team. We have been going under the radar but we just get on with it.

"We're a humble group and we'll always be humble. This is a special group of players and people. It's a pleasure to be part of.

"I've never had better times in my career than I'm having with Northern Ireland. Winning promotion to the Premier League with Brighton was special but having not played so much, for me I didn't feel as much a part of it as I do with Northern Ireland.

"Apart from my wife giving birth to my boy, I don't think there is any better feeling in the world than what we are achieving."

Germany have won all eight of their group games in the World Cup qualifiers. It's amazing to think that Northern Ireland could still overhaul them at the top.

Norwood believes the October 5 clash at Windsor is a 'free hit'.

"We look forward to welcoming the World champions next. That's a massive task," he said. "Although it might sound silly, we can still catch them. They are only five points ahead of us and there are six points to play for.

"We don't fear anyone. There is a real confidence in the group. I can't speak highly enough of this group and the backroom staff who play a massive part.

"The Germany game is now a free hit for us. We've nothing to lose."

On the prospect of the play-offs, Norwood said: "None of us will get carried away, there is still a way to go before we get to a play-off.

"We've two games to go in the group and we might need to pick up some points in those games."

Norwood likes to have the ball, but understands that isn't always the way for Northern Ireland.

"We are comfortable with the other team having the ball," he said. "We do our jobs, we've been well drilled for the past six years about playing without the ball. Against the Czech Republic they had lots of possession but never had a shot on target.

"When we had the ball we were clinical. We scored two goals and the result was never in doubt."

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