It’s going to be tough but Northern Ireland have talent to reach Euro finals, says Corry Evans
Blackburn Rovers midfielder Corry Evans accepts Northern Ireland’s sudden rise to prominence in these European Championship qualifiers will have alerted every side in Group F that Michael O’Neill’s men should be regarded as serious contenders.
But the younger brother of injured Manchester United defender Jonny is convinced Northern Ireland can continue to be the surprise package when they tackle Romania in Bucharest tonight.
In just two months, Evans and his international team-mates have restored much needed respect in Northern Ireland football following a disastrous 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign which included defeats to Luxembourg and Azerbaijan.
Wins over Hungary, Faroe Islands and Greece sees Northern Ireland sitting proudly on top of Group F on nine points, two ahead of tonight’s opponents, Romania.
“I’m sure the other nations will be looking more at us now. Having beaten Hungary and Greece away from home they will definitely sit up and take notice of us,” said Evans.
“I think people will looking at us as a serious threat and they should. A lot of people believe Romania are the best side in the group but they have changed their manager since they last played so that may change things.
“Going to Bucharest was always going to be a tough task but we have shown we are capable of going away from home and getting results, even when we have gone behind.
“I’m sure we will be tested, but that is what we have to expect. We will have to retain possession well but, again, we showed in Greece that even when we don’t have a lot of possession, we can still show what we can do.
“With the way we are set up, we can be a threat from set-pieces or from counter-attacks.”
Evans, who began his career with Manchester United before moving on to Hull City, should start on the right of Northern Ireland’s midfield here tonight.
O’Neill employed him in that position against both Hungary and Greece, where his defensive capabilities provided excellent assistance to more than capable right back Conor McLaughlin from Fleetwood Town.
“When we have played a more defensive game, Michael has played me on the right,” said Evans, who prefers to play in the centre of midfield.
“A lot of international goals are scored from wide areas, so I have played to give a bit of protection on the right.
“However, hopefully I can help when we hit on the counter-attack, too.”
Evans as a 24-year-old, wasn’t even born the last time Northern Ireland reached a major finals, the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.
However coming from a proud footballing family, Evans is well versed in the exploits of Billy Bingham’s teams.
Now, he’s hoping, along with his brother Jonny when he returns from injury, to help write a new chapter in the tales of Northern Ireland football by qualifying for the 2016 Euro finals in France.
“There is a long, long way to go in the group but we have given ourselves the best possible chance of qualification,” he said. “There are a lot of points to play for but none of us are getting carried away with what we have done so far.
“If we can keep believing in what we are doing and keep up the level of performance we have shown so far, then who knows what we can achieve.
“When I saw the draw I thought this could be the best chance I would ever have to qualify for a major tournament.
“In previous campaigns we have faced some of the massive nations like England, Spain and more recently Italy so on paper this looks easier although that is rarely the case.
“I’m sure a lot of fans also thought this was the best chance as there are more teams in the finals this time.
“We’ve given ourselves the best possible start and the belief and confidence in the squad is great. We’re going in to every game believing we can get a result and so far we have done.
“It’s so good to be a part of this squad and we believe we can get better.”
Belfast Telegraph Digital