Belfast Telegraph

World Cup 2018

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Fifa have stacked qualifying odds against us: skipper Davis

By Stuart McKinley

Steven Davis fears that Northern Ireland’s World Cup hopes may have already been dealt a blow by Fifa.

Football’s world governing body declared that Northern Ireland’s winner-takes-all World Cup play-off against Switzerland would be first on the schedule, giving manager Michael O’Neill the shortest possible preparation time with his players ahead of the first match at Windsor Park on Thursday night.

O’Neill will have a maximum of three days on the training pitch with his team in the build up to Northern Ireland’s biggest game in over 30 years and Davis fears that may have an impact on the tie.

“I think it’s going to be difficult. The game is on Thursday so we don’t have a lot of preparation time going into it,” said Davis, who will win his 100th cap in the first game against the Swiss.

“In terms of the draw we’ve got to be happy with it. There was no easy game for us, but avoiding Croatia and Italy was a plus.”

If popular opinion is to be believed then the luck of the draw wasn’t exactly on Northern Ireland’s side either.

It is widely thought that there is an advantage in playing at home in the second leg of this type of game, but Northern Ireland will travel to Basel, considered Switzerland’s major footballing city, on Sunday for the decisive game.

Rather than conceding any ground to the Swiss, however, Davis wants to rubbish those notions by taking a grip of the tie in the first game.

“We’ve got a good record at home.

“You never know if the draw will come out in your favour, playing at home or away first with the away goals, but if we can get ourselves in front and give ourselves a foothold in the game going out there with something to hang on to then we’ll be in a really good position.

“We will go in with real belief. It is going to be very difficult, but if you’d said to us at the start of the campaign that we’d and have two games to get to the World Cup we’d have bitten your hand off for it.”

Davis will hit the century of caps 12 and a half years after making his international debut against Canada in February 2005, just five weeks after his 20th birthday.

 With his 33rd birthday coming up on New Year’s Day Davis is now facing questions over how much longer his international career will carry on, but the good news for Northern Ireland fans is that he isn’t even thinking about retirement as his time in a green shirt reaches an exciting point.

“With my 100th cap itt’s going to be a special night and hopefully another memorable night at home in front of our home crowd,” said Davis. “I’ll keep going as long as I am enjoying it.

“We’ve been in a great place, it’s been a great journey the last few years, with the experience at the Euros and if we can achieve our dream of getting to the World Cup that would be massive as well.

“I am always very proud to play for my country and I would like to play for as long as possible.”

O’Neill maintained a watching brief on all his squad members over the weekend prior to Thursday’s monumental match at Windsor Park, described by the 46-year-old as his biggest ever game in Belfast.

He says: “We are not a team which is suited to chasing the game so it is vital that we don’t concede at home in the first leg. We want to be taking something to Basel with us.”

The Northern Ireland bos has been particularly enocuraged by the attitude and form of some of the fresher faces in his squad including Kilmarnock ace Jordan Jones.

“Jordan Jones is one of those players catching the eye in Scotland, playing in a different role behind the striker,” added O’Neill.

“He just gives you something a bit different, he is exciting as a player who wants to run with the ball and is very positive.”

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