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Could it be 1982 for our boys all over again?

Famous win in Spain can be repeated, insists Armstrong

By Victoria O'Hara

Northern Ireland can triumph in their crunch encounter with Spain if they stay focused and have a bit of "lady luck" on their side, according to World Cup legend Gerry Armstrong.

The former striker, who scored the winning goal when Northern Ireland humbled hosts Spain at their own World Cup more than a quarter of a century ago, believes history could be set to repeat itself.

Northern Ireland still have a slim chance of qualifying for next year's European Championships in Austria and Switzerland, but must beat Spain in Las Palmas tomorrow night and hope Latvia beat Sweden.

Gerry told the Belfast Telegraph: "They should be focused, they are all professionals and they know that if we are to have any chance of qualifying we have to win.

"The Spanish have already qualified so psychologically there is more of a desire with our players."

He added: "It is very similar circumstances to 1982.

"When we went to Spain then we needed to win, and the Spanish had already qualified, so there could be a little bit of coincidence there - I am hoping."

Gerry added that the Spanish will not have the automatic advantage - despite playing at home.

"It is going to be just as difficult for the Spanish, they have never played in that stadium, which isn't in mainland Spain.

"I think they probably thought it wouldn't have been that important a game."

Gerry said that Northern Ireland have no excuses as the conditions will be good.

"The surface is going to be good, the weather is going to be good, so there will be no excuses," he insisted.

"We can make it work to our advantage if we are positive.

"They just have to remember - how did we beat them at home and how did we beat Sweden and Denmark?

"I think we just have to stay focused and think of what we need to get out of the game.

"We need to win and hope the Sweden/Latvia game goes our way."

Gerry said Northern Ireland have proved their ability throughout the competition. And that beating Denmark on Saturday again proved their talent as a team.

"It was a great game in terrible conditions. The two goals were just fantastic," he said.

"I actually think Denmark are a good side and we've done better against the bigger sides, the Danes, Swedes and the Spanish.

"The players have more than exceeded expectations.

"I think we started as the fifth best team in the group and it looks like we will end up either the second or third best team in the group."

Gerry added: "There are a lot of similarities between the 1982 team and this side.

"One thing in '82 though - we were very much a defensive side and tended not to concede so many goals.

"We were not as attractive and attacking as this side is currently.

"And we certainly didn't have a goalscorer with the reputation of David Healy.

"I think that this side probably plays better football, but maybe not as tight at the back, but there are a lot of similarities."

But Gerry said it was vital the team remain focused.

"My advice is to stay positive, believe in yourself and stay focused.

"And remember that Spain do not need anything out of this game to qualify. We do.

"It is a tough one, I don't think we will lose.

"We drew 1-1 with Sweden in Sweden.

"I just hope lady luck smiles on us and we take it right down to the wire."

The classic games against Spain

Northern Ireland's clash with Spain tomorrow night will be the latest in a series of crunch encounters between the two nations.

  • In the 1982 World Cup Northern Ireland achieved the most famous result in their history when they humbled the hosts in Valencia. Billy Bingham's men endured having Mal Donaghy harshly sent off and secured a historic 1-0 win through a Gerry Armstrong strike to qualify top of their group.
  • Spain secured revenge four years later at the World Cup in Mexico. A Colin Clarke strike was not enough to stop Northern Ireland slipping to a 2-1 defeat and out of the competition at the group stage.
  • In September 2006 Northern Ireland made a disastrous start to their qualifying campaign for the European Championships when they were trounced at home by Iceland. However, just days later they rebounded in magnificent fashion, twice coming from behind to dramatically beat Spain 3-2, thanks to a Healy hat-trick.

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