Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland v Faroe Islands: McDonald demands end to red faces against minnows

By Jonathan Bradley

Ex-international skipper Alan McDonald has warned Northern Ireland they must avoid a repeat of his own Faroe Islands nightmare if they are to reach next year's European Championships in Ukraine and Poland.

Ahead of tonight's qualifier against Brian Kerr's side at Windsor Park, McDonald has been forced to recall one of the most harrowing matches of his 52-cap international career.

He was part of the side who were unable to overcome the perennial European minnows during qualification for Euro '92, Billy Bingham's side stuttering to a 1-1 home draw despite taking a first-half lead through Colin Clarke.

Former-QPR hero McDonald said of the upset: “We drew with them at Windsor and it was a huge embarrassment, especially for myself as captain.”

Northern Ireland's current crop of internationals were also left red-faced when they visited Toftir in this campaign, a draw resulting in the dropping of two crucial qualification points.

Such results are not uncommon in the country’s history, anomalies McDonald attributes to a questionable mentality.

“I don’t know what it is about Northern Ireland when we’re favourites. It doesn’t happen that often but when it does, we really struggle.

“We have these unforgettable nights against Spain and England but sometimes we can’t beat the minnows.”

Worthington's men can ill afford a similar setback this week if they are to maintain any hope of becoming the first Northern Irish side to qualify for a major championship since the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, a team in which McDonald was an integral part.

And after many senior players chose to skip the Carling Nations Cup matches at the end of last season, he is calling on the big stars to make an impact in the must-win tie.

“We saw with the tournament down in Dublin that we don't have the strength in depth of other countries to compete internationally,” he said.

“We need to get all our senior players back and firing for the Faroes.”

McDonald is fondly remembered by Northern Irish fans for his stoic display in a 0-0 draw with England at Wembley in 1985, a result that clinched Northern Ireland's place in the next summer's World Cup.

Participation in the tournament still ranks as one of the proudest achievements of his career.

“It was unbelievable, six months after my international debut to be going to a World Cup.

I had been watching these players from the terraces, even as a ball boy for one match, and then all of a sudden was playing with them in the biggest competition there is.

“It’s an experience you won’t forget in your whole life, playing the likes of Brazil and Spain.

“I’m hugely grateful, when you look at the players who never got to play in the competition, George Best for instance, there are a lot of great players who don’t get that chance.”

Italy are currently top of Northern Ireland’s Euro 2012 qualifying group and seem virtually assured of automatic qualification, while Slovenia are leading the chase for second place and with it a spot in the play-offs.

But three points against the Faroes would lift Northern Ireland into third place, just two points behind Slovenia having played one game less than their Eastern-european counterparts.

With no other fixtures in the group to be played until the start of September, McDonald sees the tie as a make-or-break match for Northern Ireland.

“In recent years we’ve been close but haven’t qualified for one reason or another, personally I think we should have done.

“Anything other than a win on Wednesday and it’s another campaign over. If we can’t beat the Faroes at home we don’t deserve to qualify, end of story.”

Alan McDonald was speaking at Northern Ireland sponsors Vauxhall’s Big Pitch football match at Windsor Park. For more go to|vauxhallfootball

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