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Ali McCann says learning from Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis can take his game to new heights

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Flying start: Ali McCann (left) has impressed during his fledgling international career

Flying start: Ali McCann (left) has impressed during his fledgling international career

The likes of Jonny Evans and Steven Davis should be resting up today.

The likes of Jonny Evans and Steven Davis should be resting up today.

�INPHO/William Cherry

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Flying start: Ali McCann (left) has impressed during his fledgling international career

Northern Ireland favourite Ali McCann says World Cup qualification would be a fitting tribute to captain marvel Steven Davis and all the senior players such as Jonny Evans who have given immense service to the country.

Rangers midfielder Davis won his 120th cap, surpassing Pat Jennings, when Northern Ireland reached the Euro 2020 play-off final by beating Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo.

The Cullybackey man now needs just one more cap to tie with legendary England goalkeeper Peter Shilton on 125 caps.

But of much more importance to the 36-year-old is team success and, after reaching the Euro 2016 finals in France, Davis is craving another shot at a major tournament.

World Cup 2018 and Euro 2020 play-off heartbreak were bitter pills to swallow, and the road to Qatar in 2022 is a difficult one, kicking off with a tricky test in Italy tonight, but St Johnstone ace McCann remains hopeful of a much happier ending to this qualifying campaign.

And if Davis and other inspirational leaders like Jonny Evans and Stuart Dallas can get to a major finals, then that would be the icing on the cake for everyone.

"Steven doesn't look like hanging up the boots any time soon, but all the senior players here have been such great servants for their country over many years," said McCann, whose club form was rewarded with his first call-up for the play-off semi-final against Bosnia and Herzegovina.

"You try and do it for everyone, including the staff and backroom people. You represent all of them, so you give 100 per cent and hopefully have a strong campaign.

"Steven is brilliant, he conducts himself so well day-to-day. He's in great nick and every training session he is at it. You look at him and the senior players and they have had good careers for a reason, so you try and pick up pointers when you can.

"Davo's been unbelievable this season for Rangers. They've blown everyone away in the league and obviously were crowned champions a few weeks ago.

"He's been one of their best players and he's a great professional. You see that every day in training when I'm with the Northern Ireland squad and if you can take away pointers from someone like him, it can only be good for me as well."

Midfielder McCann, who joined St Johnstone in 2012 at the age of just 12 and worked his way up through their youth ranks before breaking into their senior squad in 2018, hopes to win his third cap in Parma.

The Edinburgh man's father and grandparents hail from Portadown and he has described his Northern Irish roots as "strong" in the past.

Northern Ireland boss Ian Baraclough worked with him in the Under-21 set-up and has been impressed with his maturity in the senior ranks.

Playing Nations League football and being part of a Saints side that tasted League Cup success has lifted his game to another level.

"The Nations league is a different experience to club football," added the 21-year-old.

"There's such a high intensity and you're up against players from the best leagues in Europe, so to make yourself better as a player you have to put yourself up against these type of players.

"For me personally, it can only be good for me.

"It's also been a great season at club level. It was a slow start, with a new manager coming in and getting his ideas across and just embedding his style into the team, but in the last six months or so we have been in pretty good form.

"We won the League Cup and last weekend we managed to get into the top-six, which caps off a great campaign so far for us.

"Hopefully we can now kick on in the remainder of the season and hopefully finish as high up in the league as possible."

Northern Ireland are huge underdogs away to Italy who are unbeaten in 22 matches.

The Italians are fired up to qualify for the finals after missing out on the 2018 tournament but for Baraclough's boys there's the added incentive of becoming the first Northern Ireland side to taste victory on Italian soil.

"It's definitely a difficult start to the campaign, but it's a game we will go into with a positive mindset and try to get something from it," added McCann.

"You don't want to invite them on to you and be under pressure because that will never end well. You have to be positive and hopefully we can turn them over.

"Even if they have a few people out, they still will have plenty of quality down the ranks. They've got players like (Marco) Verratti, who plays for PSG, one of the best teams in the world, they've got players who play at the highest level who can step in.

"We'll do our research, the staff will answer any questions we have, and we'll be well prepared for whoever we come up against. We can't take them lightly even if they do have absentees because they'll still be up there with the best players in Europe."

Belfast Telegraph


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