Belfast Telegraph

Chileans provide Northern Ireland real opportunity to banish away-day blues: Steven Davis

By Stuart McKinley

Going up against two nations who are just days away from playing on the biggest stage of all may scare some players.

Steven Davis isn't one of them, though.

In fact, the Northern Ireland captain believes that the team's long run of disappointment in away friendlies can come to an end in the unlikely setting of Chilean port city Valparaiso.

On Friday week Chile will face Australia in their World Cup opener, followed by meetings with reigning world champions Spain and the team they beat in the 2010 final, Holland.

They will pose a very different challenge than Northern Ireland, but Davis is determined to test the Chileans, even though he believes they are a tougher prospect than Uruguay, who beat Michael O'Neill's team 1-0 last week.

The game plan has been drawn up and Davis believes Northern Ireland can get goals – and he also thinks he knows how to get them.

"I don't think we have anything to fear from Chile, but we will be respectful," said the Southampton midfielder.

"Nine times out of 10 we are not going to have more possession than other teams and we have to try to hit teams on the counter.

"We have to keep a solid formation first and foremost and I think we've shown we can do that against the bigger nations, but it's about trying to get results.

"I'm sure when Michael took these two games it wasn't all about results, but we want it to be as positive as possible.

"We are also bedding some young players into the squad and if we can produce a similar performance against Chile to the one in Uruguay, we will go home thinking it was a very good trip."

Northern Ireland didn't create a lot of chances against Uruguay and given that Kyle Lafferty, Martin Paterson and Jamie Ward, who will compete for the forward berths when the Euro 2016 campaign gets under way in September, aren't on the trip, it is likely that goals will again be at a premium.

O'Neill and the team have done their homework though and they know that Chile had to battle back from 2-0 down to beat Egypt 3-2 on Saturday, which shows their vulnerability in defence.

That result did see them maintain a home record that has seen them go undefeated since losing 2-1 to a Lionel Messi-inspired Argentina way back at the start of the World Cup qualifying series.

"From what we've seen on video, Chile will be a step above Uruguay – and that is no disrespect to them who obviously didn't have Luis Suarez in their team," said Davis.

"We know it will be a very difficult game; they play a high tempo and they will press us high and they have pace in forward areas so it will be another big test.

"We looked at Egypt's goals against them on Friday night and they scored from balls over the top and the way they play, the full-backs push on but the only criticism we'd have of ourselves from Friday is that we didn't use the ball well enough in the final third and we will have to improve on that."

The Chile fans will see the game against Northern Ireland as a chance to give their team a perfect send off before they head to the finals in Brazil, but Davis isn't interested in the sub-plots, although he would like to spoil their party.

"This is an important period for Chile. They are preparing for a World Cup so they will not be disrespectful to us," said Davis.

"Having said that, they will be wanting to put on a show for their fans so it is up to us to nullify them and cause them problems."

While Davis will head off on holiday with his wife and two young daughters next week, five of his Southampton team-mates, plus the recently departed Rickie Lambert, will be in Brazil.

After finishing eighth in the Premier League last season Davis hopes that the squad will stay together and push on.

"We had a great season and kept progressing, it went very quickly because it was so enjoyable," he said.

"Of course, it could be difficult to hold on to players but I'm sure the club has a plan in place to keep moving forward.

"We want to get to the next level and that means keeping the players we have and also adding to them."

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