Write us off against German giants at your peril, warns Northern Ireland's Jamie Ward
World Cup Qualifying Group C: Germany v Northern Ireland, HDI Arena, Hannover, Tomorrow, 7.45 pm
Optimistic Jamie Ward is refusing to accept Northern Ireland will be cannon fodder for world champions Germany tomorrow night at the HDI Arena in Hannover.
The Germans, fresh from their surprising semi-final exit at Euro 2016, have looked a complete and dominant force so far in World Cup qualifying Group C. In their opening two matches of the campaign they have dismissed both Norway and the Czech Republic 3-0 - two sides considered Northern Ireland's main challengers for second place in the group.
But Michael O'Neill's men arrived in Hannover yesterday afternoon in upbeat mood following their hard fought draw with the Czechs in Prague last month and a resounding 4-0 thumping of minnows San Marino on Saturday night at Windsor Park.
While the Northern Ireland players remember only too well how Germany sliced through them with ease in Paris just three months ago - only the heroics of goalkeeper Michael McGovern kept the scoreline to a single goal - Ward believes Northern Ireland, having learnt from that defeat at the Parc des Princes, may be able to prove their critics wrong and spring a surprise.
"Has anyone ever backed us? No, exactly," says a defiant Ward, who scored his third international on Saturday against San Marino.
"We've always been written off and called the underdogs.
"We were still called the underdogs when we won the group in qualifying for France.
"Obviously people are going to write us off again heading into Tuesday, but that's when we seem to prove people wrong.
"If we can keep them 0-0 for as long as possible and maybe catch them on the break or something like that, who knows?"
Arsenal's Mesut Ozil and Real Madrid's Toni Kroos were the stars of the show in Paris, keeping Northern Ireland constantly on the back foot. Full-backs Joshua Kimmich and Jonas Hector were a constant threat down the flanks, doubling up as wingers, while Thomas Muller, who has already scored four goals in this World Cup qualifying series, managed to find plenty of room in the box but was always foiled by McGovern.
Germany coach Low plans on introducing even more talent into his team with Manchester City's Ilkay Gundogan set to start after coming on as a second half substitute against the Czechs.
But Ward, who played 70 minutes of the match in Paris, is confident Northern Ireland will enjoy much more of the possession in Hannover and can actually penetrate the German defence.
The Burton Albion attacking midfielder states: "We know how good they are, but we've got pace going forward and we can break quickly.
"They've got some of the best players in the world, but they are beatable.
"We have seen that in the past, the likes of Scotland and the Republic have got something off them, so who's to say we can't?
Ward played the full 90 minutes against San Marino and it will be interesting to see, due to the quick turnaround between qualifiers, whether boss O'Neill starts the 30-year-old tomorrow night or attempts to use him as an impact sub like Kyle Lafferty.
But he was thrilled to play his part with a goal on the opening night of new-look Windsor Park as a huge crowd of 18,234 cheered on their heroes.
Ward continues: "It's obviously great on an individual basis to score, but the most important thing is the team and making sure we won the game.
"The atmosphere was brilliant. At times it felt like the fans were getting frustrated, as we were on the pitch.
"But we knew San Marino would eventually tire and our energy would get us goals in the end.
"It was great for us to get four goals and also for the fans. I'm sure they were happy with 4-0."