Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland focused on keeping our winning mentality ahead of Germany clash, says Dallas

 

Versatile man: Stuart Dallas trains with Northern Ireland
Versatile man: Stuart Dallas trains with Northern Ireland

By Graham Luney

Stuart Dallas is confident Northern Ireland can stay on the winning trail without Oliver Norwood and remain in the hunt for more major tournament action.

Norwood has called time on his international career, leaving a stunned Michael O'Neill to conclude it was "a huge mistake".

The squad will now march on without the Sheffield United ace but morale remains high as they once again knock on the door of qualification for the Euro finals.

Complacency could have crept in after the unforgettable Euro 2016 adventure in France but the squad's hunger has shone through as they progressed to a World Cup play-off and then won their first four Euro 2020 qualifiers against Estonia and Belarus.

Norwood's departure is a blow while injuries to Jordan Jones, Michael Smith and Liam Boyce have not helped to lift O'Neill's spirits ahead of tonight's home clash with Luxembourg and, of much more importance, Monday's Windsor scrap with the mighty Germans.

But Leeds United ace Dallas says the squad is desperate to build on their perfect start in Group C.

"That was always a worry, as a supporter as well you are asking can this team go again and do what we have done in the Euros," said the former Crusaders ace.

"But for us players we have tasted that success and you want to be involved in these big tournaments and games. We've done that but unfortunately couldn't qualify for the World Cup. It was nice to be involved in the big play-off and we have given ourselves an opportunity. We have earned the right to play in a massive game against Germany.

"If we hadn't won the first four games, the Germany game wouldn't have the same excitement around it. Now it's definitely a big game.

"With respect to Olly (Norwood), he's made the decision and you've got to respect that.

"I don't know what has gone on but we wish him well and he's got his chance in the Premier League with Sheffield United. It's tough for us to lose him as he's a good lad around the squad but we must fight on now without him and we can do that."

While it would be nice to go into the Germany clash following a win tonight, O'Neill will settle for a good performance and no more injuries.

Dallas, who has slipped into a right-back role with Leeds, is hungry to slay a world giant in the colours of his country.

"We definitely don't fear Germany, we respect them," added the Cookstown man.

"We are under no illusions about how difficult it's going to be. I think we have to believe we will get something from the game, there's no point in just having hope. I'm sure a sold out Windsor Park will be bouncing.

"As an opposing player, that can be intimidating and the fans will play their part.

"In the home games you definitely always have a chance. It's 11 v 11 and I could sit here and say we can do this or that but they are a world-class team and will expect to win. We will give them the respect they deserve and try to win the game.

"I have memories of the big games as a fan, I can remember sitting at home watching the Spain game wishing I could have that feeling of winning a huge match.

"The Greece victory at Windsor was as close as I got to it. I haven't beaten one of the giants of world football yet and that would be brilliant. You need to be 100% on it from the start.

"Of course we'd take a point but we want to win the game. Hopefully we can go into the Germany game on the back of a win against Luxembourg."

Versatility has now become one of Dallas' strengths, the mark of a player who is willing to adapt his game for the greater good of the team.

He's been mostly flying down the right wing for Northern Ireland but O'Neill knows he can also be utilised at right-back.

Against Luxembourg, Conor McLaughlin could be given the nod at right-back with Dallas pushed further forward.

"I've been transformed into a full-back now or a wing-back, but the good thing at Leeds is, whatever way the opposition sets up, we can adapt," he added.

"If it means me playing in a flat four or a back five or as a wing-back in a back three, I can do that. But I'm there at the minute.

"I probably would view myself as a full-back now. I think the game is changing.

"As a winger, it has changed for me and I feel more comfortable now as a full-back or wing-back.

"At the end of last season, I was playing on the left in the play-offs as a left-back because we had a few injuries, but I've moved over to the right now.

"I'm just happy to be playing.

"I think versatility can be a good thing but sometimes it can work against you as well because you don't have a settled position, but now at Leeds I'm playing week in, week out at right back."

The atmosphere at Windsor will be a lot hotter on Monday night when the Germans are in town but the players know what's at stake tonight.

"I think ultimately the main objective is to win the game on Monday night and if that means the manager has to make a few changes on Thursday, I don't know," added Dallas.

"It's a game we want to win. We've won four on the bounce and we want to continue that winning feeling because it brings confidence.

"It also keeps that momentum going so we want to win against Luxembourg."

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