Best foot forward to beat Germans - Davis
As he stepped out at Windsor Park yesterday in front of the iconic photograph of legend George Best, Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis said he has "100% belief" that his side can beat Germany tonight (7.45pm).
Ahead of the vital Euro 2020 qualifier, Davis has told his team-mates to "have a go" at the Germans and have "no regrets" when the final whistle blows.
The Rangers hero will become Northern Ireland's most capped outfield player this evening when he makes his 113th international appearance against a German side smarting after Friday's 4-2 home loss to the Netherlands and missing Manchester City midfielder Ilkay Gundogan following his withdrawal yesterday due to illness.
With Northern Ireland top of Group C on 12 points from four games, a home win against Joachim Low's team would put Michael O'Neill's side in with a real chance of Euro 2020 qualification.
Davis, however, recognises his men will have to be on top of their game to conquer the Germans.
The 34-year-old is one of the most revered figures ever to represent Northern Ireland, up there with the iconic George Best, overall record appearance holder Pat Jennings (119 caps) and record goalscorer David Healy.
Tonight he will aim to inspire the nation to a huge result in Belfast as he has done many times before.
He scored twice when Northern Ireland defeated Greece to reach Euro 2016 and is the only survivor in the squad from the famous September victories over England and Spain in 2005 and 2006.
With Germany three points adrift and the Netherlands six behind with a game in hand, a home win would leave O’Neill’s side tantalisingly close to Euro 2020 qualification.
“Hopefully this will be one of those special nights at Windsor,” said a determined Davis.
“After our first four group games, we wanted to be in a position with all to play for. In many ways the pressure’s on Holland and Germany.
“Do I believe we can go and get results against them? A hundred per cent, yes. Would we beat them if we played them regularly? No but it’s important that we go out against Germany and don’t have any regrets or be too passive in the game. We want to set our stall out early and make sure we have a go.”
Davis played in the defeats against Germany in the Euro 2016 finals and last World Cup qualifying campaign but insists the Northern Ireland side has evolved since then.
“A number of young players have come in and gained vital experience over the last couple of years. They have good legs and good energy,” said Davis, who made his international debut 14 years ago.
“I think we have a good balance and have evolved as a team. In the Nations League, we didn’t get the results we deserved but the performances were good, we had more possession and made the most of that. We have seen an improvement and tried to carry that on.
“It’s a game where we are not going to outplay Germany or have more possession than them but I think when we have played them over the last three times, we have had moments where we could have taken advantage of them and if we had a bit more quality or made a better decision in those moments, we could have hurt them at times.
“That’s something we have to improve on and we are going to have to put a lot of great work in off the ball as well.”
Davis will take on Real Madrid playmaker and World Cup winner Toni Kroos in what promises to be a compelling contest.
“He’s right up there with players I’ve faced. He’s top quality and he’s got the medals for club and country to show that,” said Davis.
In a pre-match boost for the hosts, midfielder Ilkay Gundogan was ruled out of the clash, joining a growing list of absentees.
On Saturday, fellow midfielder Nico Schulz had to pull out injured and the Germans are already without Leroy Sane, Leon Goretzka and Antonio Rudiger among others.
“Ilkay is out with a flu virus. This afternoon, he had to return home,” Low said.