Belfast Telegraph

Faroe Islands v Northern Ireland: Gareth McAuley sounds Euro warning


By Steven Beacom

Gareth McAuley has warned his Northern Ireland team-mates that if they lose their focus in the Faroe Islands, they could end up losing the match.

And that would have serious consequences for Michael O'Neill's side in their bid to reach the Euro 2016 finals.

On paper, given the form Northern Ireland have produced in the qualifying campaign so far, taking on the lowest seeds in Group F may look a comfortable assignment, but the Faroes football team have made significant improvements of late and are capable of a shock.

It was thought the Faroes would finish bottom of the group, yet with four games left they are in fourth spot having secured home and away wins over Greece.

And they have history against Northern Ireland. Former boss Nigel Worthington still has nightmares about his side's 1-1 draw in the Faroes in 2010. In the eyes of many Northern Ireland fans, he never recovered from that.

McAuley played in that match and remembers it well.

So, while many supporters are relishing next Monday's clash with Hungary at Windsor Park, 10 years on from beating England at the same venue, with potential qualification on the line, McAuley is only concentrating on the trip to the Faroes for a Friday fixture which he feels is the most important O'Neill's men have faced.

"This is the biggest game of the campaign. Our full focus is on the Faroes and we will look at Hungary after Friday night," said West Brom star McAuley.

"We know the Faroes will be organised and strong, they are a different team to the one we drew with over there five years ago.

"Make no mistake about it, this is going to be a difficult game for us.

"But three points are vital. If we deliver that it will be a massive boost going into the Hungary game and for the rest of the campaign.

"We are working on things to help us achieve it. It wouldn't be the end of our campaign if we didn't win but that's the result we are aiming for.

"If we come back to Belfast with another three points in the bag, everyone will be buoyant and with a big home crowd behind us against Hungary, we will all be confident.

"We have six points up for grabs and if we are unbeaten in those two games and hopefully win both, we will take a massive stride to the finals and of course there is a chance that two wins would actually see us qualify."

There sure is. The dream scenario would be Friday wins for Northern Ireland and group leaders Romania, who face third-placed Hungary in Budapest.

That would leave O'Neill's side needing to beat Hungary in Belfast to qualify for next year's Euro finals.

"The start we made in this campaign gave us momentum and we have managed to keep it going. We have the belief we can finish this off but it won't be easy," added 35-year-old McAuley.

Earlier in the group, Northern Ireland easily defeated the Faroes 2-0 at Windsor, but McAuley, who scored that evening, refuses to read too much into that.

"They seem to have performed better in their games since then. We blew them away in the first-half that night," he said.

"That will be the plan again. We have to play with intensity, match their workrate and try to break them down. They have picked up a few results that no-one other than themselves thought they could get and are no mugs. A lot of their players play professionally in Denmark so we know what we are up against."

McAuley is expected to be partnered by his new WBA team-mate Jonny Evans in central defence against the Faroes.

The ex-Coleraine ace stated: "Jonny was in a difficult situation when he was at Manchester United, not playing many games. That has changed now and I'm delighted he has joined my club.

"From watching him in training in the past few days with Northern Ireland, he's looked like himself. He's been sharp, on the front foot and he will have no problems."

Belfast Telegraph