Belfast Telegraph

Crucial Group C second place is ours to lose: Northern Ireland midfielder Norwood

World Cup fate is in NI's hands, says Norwood

By Adam McKendry

Determined Ollie Norwood insists Northern Ireland will only have themselves to blame if they fail to keep hold of the coveted second place in Group C.

After annihilating Azerbaijan 4-0 last Friday night at Windsor Park, Northern Ireland moved to seven points after four games, just above the Azeris on goal difference, and currently hold a World Cup play-off spot with six games to go.

World champions Germany, having already accumulated a maximum of 12 points, are expected to run away with the group so Northern Ireland are left to battle it out with Azerbaijan, Czech Republic and Norway for the runners-up position.

But having already played in Prague and Hannover in this qualifying series, midfielder Norwood is confident that, with a strong home record, Northern Ireland will continue to look down at their challengers from their perch just under the Germans.

"You've got to say Germany are going to win the group, they're the World champions and a fantastic team," admitted the 25-year-old.

"Second place is ours to lose now, we have to make sure we do enough to stay there and take enough points. With the next game at home against Norway hopefully we can move onto 10 points quickly and move on from there."

Northern Ireland will take a break from World Cup qualifying action tomorrow to host Croatia in a friendly. However, Real Madrid star Luka Modric will not be in Belfast with the Croatian FA revealing he has returned to his club.

With Azerbaijan impressing in their first three games, picking up seven points including a home win over Norway and a draw away to the Czech Republic, Friday night could have been an uncomfortable evening for boss Michael O'Neill.

However it proved to be the complete opposite, as Northern Ireland put in an excellent all-round team performance, ending Azerbaijan's unbeaten streak and scoring four goals for the second game in succession at home.

"We knew they were going to be difficult to play against, they've had a great start to the campaign and hadn't conceded a goal up until the first half," continued Norwood.  "We felt if we got the crowd behind us, got the ball moving forward quickly and not let them get set we had a chance. We didn't want to pass side to side, we wanted to get forward quickly and we spoke about that.

"We watched their game against Norway, and Norway just passed the ball about in front of them and they were perfectly happy with that. We wanted to keep our shape and then the set pieces came through for us."

Before they can turn their attentions to the next World Cup qualifier at home to Norway in March, there's the small matter of tomorrow's friendly against Croatia at Windsor Park.  Norwood sees it as a chance to keep their momentum alive against one of Europe's top teams, as well as ensure they finish 2016 on a high.

"We just want to keep the momentum going (against Croatia)," he proclaims. "We haven't lost at home in a while, and we don't intend on doing that on Tuesday night!

"I'm sure there'll be a big crowd in again and the excitement is building with the fans getting behind us and we want to put in another big performance against Croatia."

Belfast Telegraph


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