Belfast Telegraph

Forget Germany, win this one first

Stepping up: Gareth McAuley wants Northern Ireland to show a ruthless edge against San Marino before travelling to Hannover to face Germany
Stepping up: Gareth McAuley wants Northern Ireland to show a ruthless edge against San Marino before travelling to Hannover to face Germany

By Steven Beacom

Gareth McAuley has urged everyone connected with the Northern Ireland team to forget about taking on World champions Germany until they do a professional job against San Marino tomorrow.

The West Brom defender is well aware that Northern Ireland couldn't be facing two more different opponents in the forthcoming World Cup double-header, with the part-time minnows of San Marino first up at Windsor Park followed by a trip to take on the best side on the planet in Hannover on Tuesday night.

The Germany game, of course, is the glamour affair, but McAuley is firm in his belief that right now the match with San Marino is the more important fixture.

Northern Ireland will be odds-on to beat tomorrow's opponents. On different occasions down the years that has been a problem, not least when Luxembourg won four points in the head to heads in the last World Cup campaign.

McAuley insists lessons have been learned from the past and says the team are now better equipped to deal with such situations, as was shown in the successful Euro 2016 qualifying campaign when Michael O'Neill's side defeated the Faroe Islands home and away.

McAuley expects Northern Ireland to be just as ruthless against San Marino.

"It is a must-win game. I'd expect all the other teams in the group to beat San Marino home and away so we are going to have to do that as well," said McAuley, now 36 but not playing like it.

"That means there is pressure on us. We've got to stay patient on how we approach it.

"We need the crowd to stay with us and be patient too. If it is a goal in the last minute and we win 1-0 then job done.

"Obviously we'd like to win by more, but the days of doing that in international football are probably gone.

"I won't be disappointed if we don't put on a great performance against San Marino but come out with a 1-0 win, not at all.

"I've been to Luxembourg and lost. I've been to the Faroes and drew down the years.

"Yes, everyone wants to entertain, but the most important thing is to get three points from that game.

"It doesn't matter how we do it as long as we do.

"I'd like to think we have learned our lesson from previous campaigns over the years and how we do things.

"If we are our own worst enemy in the game we won't get anything from it, but if we make the right choices and do the right things then we'll have enough. That is down to us players on the pitch.

"After Luxembourg we hit a low against the team we'd expect to beat but we are in a good place now and we are making the right decisions on the pitch now."

McAuley adds that even though the Germans are on the horizon, O'Neill's men cannot take their eye off the ball in front of them.

"The two games are polar opposites," he said.

"The way we approach each game tactically will be completely different, that's just the way it is. We'll be going to Germany to do what San Marino will be trying to do to us by frustrating them, but we have to win the first game.

"All our focus has been on San Marino so far and how we are going to break them down.

"They will come and be organised and they'll play to a structure and they'll be disciplined. All the so-called smaller nations are playing that way now and they are being coached better but we have the belief that we can win."

Northern Ireland enter tomorrow's match with a point on the board from last month's 0-0 draw in the Czech Republic when, by their own admission, the players felt they didn't perform at their best.

"It wasn't a vintage performance but we had chances and with a little bit more care and thought on the final pass we could have won the game," said McAuley.

"We gave them chances too though, and there were a lot of tired legs in the last 15 minutes, but the spirit of the lads was there for all to see as we dug in and got over the line.

"We've set a standard and anything below that will frustrate us. I'm not a big one for looking back at games, but when I think of the Poland game at the Euros we were more annoyed with the performance than actually losing it. We did feel a little bit below par in the Czech Republic but we got a good point."

Belfast Telegraph