Belfast Telegraph

Hamilton says class of 2017 can emulate former heroes


By Graham Luney

Northern Ireland legend Billy Hamilton believes the class of 2017 can rekindle the spirit of the early 1980s and edge closer to a dream place in the World Cup Finals.

Michael O'Neill's side will snatch a cherished play-off spot in qualifying Group C if they can avoid defeat against Czech Republic at Windsor Park tonight.

Hamilton and his heroic team-mates conquered Israel 1-0 at Windsor back in 1981 and Gerry Armstrong's winner booked a ticket to the finals in Spain where Billy Bingham's boys went on to rock the hosts in Valencia.

Northern Ireland have maintained the composed and classy form that steered them to the last 16 of Euro 2016 in France and following their 3-0 victory in San Marino a trip to Russia remains within reach.

O'Neill's team are seven points clear of the third-placed Czechs with three qualifiers remaining and Hamilton believes the Windsor roar can help write another fairytale.

"The boys only need a draw and that takes some of the heat and pressure out of it," said Hamilton. "They don't need to go all guns blazing. Michael can set the team up defensively and our record in that area has been superb. We are hard to beat and the pressure is on the Czechs to break us down. That suits our game plan and I have every confidence we can get the job done.

"We will be well organised and well prepared as we always are. The fans will have a huge part to play as well as they did back in 1981 when big Gerry's goal against Israel sent us on our way to the 1982 World Cup. There must have been a crowd of around 50,000 at the old Windsor that night and the fans were in great spirits. There was big expectation and it can be nerve-wracking for the players but the great thing about this game is we have other chances to make the play-offs and it's not an all or nothing scenario for us.

"It is arguably the most important World Cup qualifier since the Israel game but then the play-off game, if we make it, will be even bigger. There is pressure on both sides in these games and the Czechs must win. We have the Windsor Park crowd on our side and it can be a hostile place for teams."

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