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Mats Hummels loves the fairytale ahead of Northern Ireland v Germany

By Paul Ferguson

In the most romantic city in the world, Germany's elegant defender Mats Hummels has fallen in love with Northern Ireland. The Bayern Munich-bound Hummels flirted, teased and even promised a heartfelt present after tonight's game between World champions Germany and Michael O'Neill's men in Paris.

It seems the 27-year-old, regarded as one of the best centre halves in the world, just can't get enough of the Northern Ireland fairytale story.

His unbridled affection for the men in green certainly brightened up a rather wet and dreary day in the French capital yesterday.

Hummels is up to speed with Conor Washington's rapid rise from former postman to delivering goals for Northern Ireland, Will Grigg's viral terrace chant is a favourite of his and he has nothing but admiration for the thousands of Green and White members who have added so much colour and good-natured fun to this tournament.

"I've heard all about Conor Washington and I love stories like that," admits Hummels, who is returning to Munich this summer after seven years at Borussia Dortmund.

"I also like the Will Grigg song although I must admit it's not quite right - I'm not terrified.

"As for the stories about firefighters being telephoned to put him out, I love that story and at the end of the match I don't think I'll be the only German player trying to give him my jersey so that I get his in return. I'm already a great fan of his."

Asked if he would like to sing a rendition of the song, Hummels politely declined.

"I'm maybe the worst singer in this team so I won't do this."

Despite Northern Ireland incredibly defeating West Germany twice in 1984 Euro qualification, they have never overcome a unified Germany; in seven games they have lost four times and drawn three.

But Hummels says they have taken notice of Northern Ireland's exploits in recent years.

He admits: "We respect them nowadays. They have played quite good in the qualifiers, ended the group as winners and have beaten Ukraine so we know what we will face and have respect for them."

Germany, as a proud footballing nation, always bring a large and vocal support to the major finals they participate in. But Hummels says he is only too aware of the impact the Green and White Army have on their team.

"We know that their players thrive off the emotions of their supporters and I think one tenth of the Northern Ireland population are here at the tournament. It's more difficult for us, we can't transport eight million people over here."

Germany coach Joachim Low is suffering from a sore throat and missed last night's pre-match press conference, but he will definitely be in the technical area at the Parc des Princes this evening.

Hummels conceded it wasn't down to the fact he had been screaming at his team following a frustrating draw with Poland last Thursday night at the Stade de France.

"He has always been relaxed," said Hummels. "Even in difficult situations he smiled a little bit and sometimes he makes a joke. He trusts his players and gives us the feeling that he works with us and that he likes this work and even if we don't play so well he will trust in us in the next game."

Germany are determined to go through to the last 16 of Euro 2016 as Group C winners but that will largely depend on them beating Northern Ireland and making sure their result and goal difference is better than Poland, who play Ukraine at the same time tonight.

Hummels says Northern Ireland should expect an onslaught from Germany, adding: "If we win 1-0 and the Polish have a 3-0 win we would be only second so we will not stay in the back with 11 players - we will advance and try to win the game so yes the other game involving Poland might have a certain influence."

Even though a big victory is essential for the Germans, they are considering changes.

Assistant coach Thomas Schneider revealed: "We will need all the players throughout the tournament although they don't always play, there might be slight changes but I don't want to talk about that in depth."

  • N Ireland v Germany, Euro 2016 Group C: Parc des Princes, Today, 5.00pm

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