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Euro 2016: Northern Ireland fans take in sights of Paris and look ahead to towering achievement

As Northern Ireland moves step closer to next round, GAWA in confident mood before vital match in French capital. Adrian Rutherford joins them

A pocket of Northern Ireland fans strolls through the ancient cobbled streets of Montmartre, in the shadow of the towering Sacré-Coeur Basilica.

A few stops along the Paris metro system, others are mingling with locals drinking coffee by the banks of the Seine.

It is early afternoon, and the great GAWA road-trip has hit the French capital.

One of the world's great cities, it is a fitting setting for our biggest match in a generation.

Tomorrow Northern Ireland face world champions Germany knowing a draw should be enough to qualify for the last 16 of Euro 2016. And thousands of supporters are arriving in anticipation of seeing Michael O'Neill's heroes become legends.

The venue is the Parc des Princes, a stage worthy of our Kings of Lyon. Yesterday, pockets of Green and White coloured the city streets, bustling with tourists at the height of summer.

Some fans opted for a tour of Paris's landmarks, with the Eiffel Tower providing a popular backdrop for souvenir photographs.

The sprawling Gare du Nord station was the arrival point for many who travelled by train from Lyon.

Among those hitting the city yesterday was Jim Dickson from Lisburn. A life-long fan, he made the journey with his son Thomas and several friends, and said he was witnessing our country's greatest days.

"I've followed Northern Ireland since the days where you had to pay two quid in, and climbing over the turnstile into the Spion Kop even before that," he recalled.

"These are the best days I've seen for a long time. Before this it would have been England at Wembley in 1985 (when Northern Ireland qualified for Mexico '86). That had been the pinnacle but this tops it all - superb."

Fans are arriving with a real sense of optimism after Thursday's win over Ukraine.

After an opening loss to Poland, goals from Gareth McAuley and Niall McGinn sealed our first win at a major finals since the 1982 World Cup.

It means Northern Ireland are guaranteed to finish third in their group, and will qualify for the last 16 stage if they finish as one of the four best third-placed teams.

A draw should be enough. Even a defeat may not spell the end of the road, if other results go in their favour.

Football fever has gripped Paris, offering some relief to a city still reeling from the bloodshed of November's terror attacks.

Yesterday, locals packed the huge fanzone at the Eiffel Tower ahead of the host country's final group game against Switzerland.

Elsewhere, Northern Ireland fans were acquainting themselves with Parisian life, some opting for a stroll down the fashionable Champs Elysees avenue at the Arc de Triomphe.

James Kelly and his three friends took a walk through Montmartre, another of the city's iconic districts. "The Euros has been an amazing journey," he said. "We partied on the beach in Nice last Sunday, today we're walking around Paris - the travelling has almost been as good as the football."

Other fans were content to ditch the sightseeing after a two-hour early morning train journey from Lyon.

Alan Trueick and Robert Taylor, from the Ballysillan area of Belfast, arrived in France last Saturday, and Alan is hopeful his stay will extend into a third week. "Three points should be enough, though I actually think we'll get something out of the Germany game," he said.

"The Germans haven't been that impressive and our record against them is decent."

Robert added: "The support has been fantastic, every other country is singing our songs.

"There will be a good atmosphere. I'm looking forward to it."

Alan said Thursday's win over Ukraine ranks as one of his best moments as a Northern Ireland fan for more than 30 years.

"I was at Wembley in 1985 to see us qualify for the World Cup in Mexico and those two, Lyon and Wembley, are the best away matches I've been at."

Justin Cole, of Newtownabbey NI Supporters' Club, has tickets for as long as Northern Ireland stay in the competition. "We've no return flight home and we're hoping it's going to stay that way and we will get all the way to the final. A draw should take us through and I'm more than confident we can get it," he said.

Belfast Telegraph