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Faroe Islands keeper Gunnar believes Northern Ireland fans are in for a shock


In safe hands: Faroes keeper Gunnar Nielsen is up for the battle in Belfast on Saturday

In safe hands: Faroes keeper Gunnar Nielsen is up for the battle in Belfast on Saturday

Bongarts/Getty Images

In safe hands: Faroes keeper Gunnar Nielsen is up for the battle in Belfast on Saturday

History making goalkeeper Gunnar Nielsen has revealed the Faroe Islands believe they can pull off a shock result against Northern Ireland at Windsor Park in Saturday's Euro 2016 qualifier.

Motherwell's Nielsen, the only man from the Faroes to play in the Premier League, insists that Northern Ireland's failures in the last World Cup campaign, when faced with so called lesser lights, offers real hope to the visitors who arrived here last night.

Michael O'Neill's team could only manage 1-1 draws at home to Luxembourg and Azerbaijan. Even more embarrassingly they were defeated in the return fixtures.

There is unwanted history with the Faroes too. In the previous European Championship qualifiers, Northern Ireland drew 1-1 with them in Toftir - a dismal outcome which saw fans quickly lose faith with then manager Nigel Worthington.

On the upside for Northern Ireland the last time the Faroes played in Belfast they were hammered 4-0, but three years on, the Group F minnows are intent on not being put to the sword.

And this even though ex-Manchester City ace Nielsen and his team-mates have respect for O'Neill's men, who should enter the weekend clash in confident mood having kicked off Euro 2016 in style with a 2-1 victory in Hungary last month.

On the same day the Faroes, who have won just FOUR out of 58 European qualifiers, took the lead against Finland only to lose 3-1 as their old Achille's heel of conceding late goals came back to haunt them.

Speaking exclusively to the Belfast Telegraph, Nielsen said: "Northern Ireland started very well winning their first game in Hungary and with them being at home on Saturday they will be big favourites, but we are coming to Belfast feeling optimistic.

"It would be massive for all of us in the squad and the country if we could get a result away from home against a strong Northern Ireland team.

"We have been good in games at keeping a clean sheet in the first half but then maybe because we tire we concede goals in the second half. This time we will aim to keep the clean sheet for 90 minutes and make it hard for our opponents.

"It definitely gives us hope that in their last campaign Northern Ireland struggled against the smaller teams and of course we drew 1-1 with them a few years ago. We believe in ourselves that we can get a good result."

The experienced Nielsen sees similarities between his side and O'Neill's.

"Northern Ireland are a good team and having lived and played in the UK for some years now I am aware of their players," said the goalkeeper, who turned 28 yesterday.

"We will have to watch out for players like Niall McGinn and Kyle Lafferty, but I think the biggest star for them is the team. Northern Ireland work very hard as a team and that is their greatest strength.

"We are a bit similar to them in that we work hard for each other and try to do the basics right. At the moment we have quite a young side with some really talented players. We need time for the youngsters to come through, but this is actually an exciting period for the Faroes. We go into every game now thinking that we can win it."

They didn't win any in the 2014 World Cup qualifiers, picking up just one point from 10 games.

"In our last campaign we were in a very hard group containing Germany, Ireland, Sweden and Austria," said Nielsen.

"Our European Championship group is tough too but I believe it is much more even. To me there is no runaway team in this group. Greece are strong and Romania too but Finland and Northern Ireland also have a chance of finishing in the top two or three places. When you think of the other teams that could have been in this group such as Germany or Spain, I think all the countries should be happy to be in this section.

"Our aim in the group is win matches. Normally our best chance of a result comes at home but in this group we are hoping to do something away as well.

"I have never been to Belfast before but I have heard there is a good atmosphere at Windsor Park and we are looking forward to the match."

It'll take something special on Saturday, however, to beat April 24, 2010 when Nielsen came off the bench for Manchester City against Arsenal, replacing the injured Shay Given.

In doing so he became the first Faroese footballer to play in the Premier League.

"That was a very proud moment for me, my family and the whole of the Faroe Islands when I became the first player from my country to play in the Premier League," said Nielsen, who joined City in 2009 and left three years later.

"In the Faroes everyone is crazy for the Premier League and everyone has their own team so for someone from back home to play at that level was huge.

"I came on when Shay Given dislocated his shoulder. It was 0-0 and the game finished 0-0 so at least I kept a clean sheet.

"I normally played in the reserves but was always training with the first team and the big name players City had.

"It was just after the new owner had taken over and the club were signing all these superstars. It was a great time to be at Manchester City. I'm not surprised that they have gone on to win Premier League titles."

Belfast Telegraph