Belfast Telegraph

Nigel and David aim to leave Swedes feeling sheepish

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland's footballers already had plenty of incentive going into tomorrow night's crucial European Championship qualifier in Sweden.

And now they have a whole lot more thanks to a Swedish newspaper, who decided to poke fun at Nigel Worthington's team and star striker David Healy.

In yesterday's Sportbladet, a picture of our leading goalscorer was superimposed on a sheep's head with the headline "Lambs to the Slaughter ".

Healy and the rest of Worthington's team now intend to use the picture and accompanying story to spur them on in the Group F clash in Stockholm.

Indeed the manager will use it as part of his team talk before the game.

Sweden currently top the group and require a win to ensure qualification for next year's European Championship finals in Austria and Switzerland.

But this match is just as important for Northern Ireland, as our boys also need a victory to maintain their dreams of making it to Euro 2008.

Obviously the Swedes with home advantage and class players such as Freddie Ljungberg and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are odds on favourites to win, but unlike the Swedish newspaper, let's not forget that the last time the teams played, the men in green emerged triumphant.

On a famous night at Windsor Park back in March, Healy scored two stunning goals to give Northern Ireland a 2-1 victory.

Managed then by Lawrie Sanchez, that fabulous result took our wee country to the top of the Group F table.

Healy and the boys weren't exactly "Lambs to the Slaughter" that night.

And the Green and White Army, thousands of whom will be travelling to Sweden, will hope for the same scenario tomorrow night.

It would certainly be the perfect way to erase memories of the crushing defeats to Iceland and Latvia last month.

With Healy, who has of course scored winning goals against England and Spain, as well as Sweden, anything is possible.

He admitted today that he was surprised when he was handed a copy of the Swedish newspaper.

"Seeing your face pictured on a sheep is a bit strange as it's not happened to me before.

"But if that's the way they feel they are underestimating us.

"They are expecting us to lose after the last two games but you should never underestimate the underdog - especially us."

Smiling, he added: "We'll probably win this one two or 3-0 knowing our record.

"Seriously though, you can never write us off. I wouldn't be surprised if we did get a result because you can be assured we will be giving it everything.

"As for myself I can deal with the expectation on my shoulders."

Healy needs one more goal to become the leading goalscorer in European Championship qualifying history.

He is currently level with Croatian legend Davor Suker on 12.

Northern Ireland captain Aaron Hughes, who has returned to the squad after injury, is confident that if Healy gets an opportunity, he will go past Suker.

"We are always dangerous with David in the side ? just look back at the last game against Sweden. We only had two or three chances and he scored two, " said Fulham defender Hughes.

"That's the key to winning international football matches ? sometimes you only get two or three opportunities and you must stick them away.

"He is one of the big reasons why we've done so well during the past few years. He's always been a threat and long may he continue to be."

Hughes added: " They want to go out and confirm their qualification for Austria and Switzerland ? that is the carrot that is dangling in front of their eyes.

"For us, we want to be party poopers, spoil their big night and come away with the points that will help us in our quest and keep us in contention."

Ewe better believe it, Northern Ireland are going to be up for this one. Go on Nigel, go on David, ram it to them - again.

Belfast Telegraph


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