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Gareth McAuley urges Northern Ireland to be ruthless against group minnows

Defender Gareth McAuley recognises Northern Ireland must defeat their group's minnows if they are to stand any chance of reaching the World Cup finals in Russia.

Michael O'Neill's team started their qualification campaign by picking up a point in the Czech Republic ahead of an October double-header against two opposition at polar opposite ends of the international football spectrum.

San Marino, a nation who have never won a competitive fixture in their 26-year existence, are the visitors to Windsor Park before the Northern Irish travel to the reigning world champions Germany, who are unbeaten in 24 World Cup qualifying contests.

McAuley has urged his team-mates to avoid any embarrassing slip-up against San Marino, highlighting how their victories over smaller countries helped paved the way for Euro 2016 qualification.

Norn Iron claimed 10 points from a possible 12 against the Faroe Islands and Finland having dropped points against the likes of Luxembourg, Azerbaijan and Estonia in campaigns before that.

"It is important to pick up points at home, starting next month against San Marino," said veteran West Brom defender McAuley.

"We have struggled against teams like that in the past. I'm not one for looking back but in the last campaign we found a way of beating the teams we are expected to beat.

"Hopefully we can be positive and be on the front foot and it will be nice to get back to Windsor and have the home crowd and the stadium when it's fully finished.

"And with that crowd behind us, hopefully we can turn that into another three points which would make it a really positive start."

From being overwhelming favourites to defeat San Marino, O'Neill's side will be huge underdogs against Germany three days later.

There is an acceptance from the other nations in the group that Die Mannschaft's dominance has probably left second place as the best prize available, something which was reaffirmed to McAuley when he played against them in a 1-0 loss at the Euros.

"We want to be in a good position before we go to Germany," he added.

"We've already seen first-hand at the Euros just how good they are so it's probably a group where it is a race for second place and a play-off place.

"Our aim is to win the next one and go to Germany and give the best performance we can.

"We are a little bit disappointed with how we played in Prague but it gives us confidence that we can improve.

"It's different coming away from home than it is at Windsor Park but on our day we can take on anyone and hopefully that's the case when we go to Germany. It was just important that we didn't lose the first game."


From Belfast Telegraph