Belfast Telegraph

Netherlands stars will treat Northern Ireland lightly at their peril, warns McNair

Paddy McNair
Paddy McNair

By Paul Ferguson

Optimistic Paddy McNair insists the Netherlands superstars are not immune to "human error" and Northern Ireland must be ready to pounce tomorrow night in Rotterdam to keep alive their Euro 2020 qualifying aspirations.

The Dutch, loaded with quality players in Virgil van Dijk, Matthijs de Ligt, Frenkie de Jong, Georginio Wijnaldum and Memphis Depay, are a team in form, having reached the Nations League final last June, and after thumping arch rivals Germany 4-2 in Hamburg just over a month ago, they are considered huge favourites to conquer Northern Ireland at the Feyenoord Stadium.

Michael O'Neill's men need to secure at least a point to realistically have a chance of challenging for automatic qualification from Group C. A draw would set up a 'winner takes all' clash with the Dutch at Windsor Park next month.

While acknowledging the Netherlands' class all over the pitch, 24 year-old midfielder McNair last night stressed that Northern Ireland, just like they did last month against Germany, have the confidence to go toe-to-toe with a top nation.

The Germans emerged 2-0 winners at Windsor and McNair is hoping that result could cause complacency in the Dutch ranks.

"The Dutch are such a famous football nation and some of their players might not know much about Northern Ireland and think it will be easier than we intend it to be," reasoned Ballynure lad McNair, who is expected to start in midfield alongside Steven Davis, George Saville and Corry Evans tomorrow night.

Josh Magennis is likely to lead Northern Ireland's attack.

"The 2-0 scoreline in the German match made it look more comfortable then it was but maybe that's a good thing as the Dutch may underestimate us.

"They have great centre-halves, Virgil van Dijk and Matthijs de Ligt, but they can make mistakes like anyone else so there will be areas we can exploit. We are still joint top of the group and all the incentive we need is trying to qualify for a major tournament."

Middlesbrough ace McNair was born too late, in 1995, to really enjoy some of the great Dutch teams which included Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Kluivert and Clarence Seedorf before the turn of the century but he has first-hand experience of Netherlands dangerman Depay, having been with the Dutch forward at Manchester United.

Depay was a flop during his two years at Old Trafford but has reignited his career at Lyon and been a lethal hitman for Ronald Koeman’s Oranje.

McNair knew his former team-mate Depay, once the United shackles were off, would return to being a great player and he is certainly one Northern Ireland must be wary of tomorrow night.

“I played with Memphis at Man U and he’s a very talented player,” said McNair.

“He can play inside, he can play up front and he’s improved a lot since he left United and done really well at Lyon.

“We know he’s going to be a big threat and it will be a good test for our defence.

“He’s a very talented lad and when I left, I had no doubt he’d go on to do really well.

“Hopefully he doesn’t show it so much on Thursday night.”

McNair scored his first international goal and Northern Ireland’s winner in Belarus in June and with O’Neill’s men finding it difficult to find the net consistently, he would love to double his tally in Rotterdam — but only if the men in green secure a positive result.

“Obviously it would be very good to score but it wouldn’t be so good to score and lose the game,” he said.

“I’d love to score and help the team win or get a point. That would make us all happy.

“A draw would be unbelievable for a possible winner-takes-all situation and it would be an incredible match at Windsor Park.”

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