Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland v South Korea: Euro 2020 glory would help ease World Cup heartache: Norwood

Look ahead: Oliver Norwood (right, pictured with Jonny Evans) says there are positive signs for the future of Northern Ireland
Look ahead: Oliver Norwood (right, pictured with Jonny Evans) says there are positive signs for the future of Northern Ireland

By Steven Beacom

Oliver Norwood doesn't believe Northern Ireland's bubble is about to burst.

The Burnley man and his international team-mates are hungry to kick on after the World Cup qualifying campaign ended in heartbreaking fashion.

But Michael O'Neill and his men have raised expectation levels considerably and the supporters are now hopeful that another European Championship is within reach.

Preparations for the Nations League tests and Euro 2020 qualifiers begin today when South Korea are at Windsor Park for a friendly.

It's a difficult assignment to kick off a busy 2018 for Northern Ireland but the challenge is there to keep pace with Europe's big hitters.

Former Huddersfield Town ace Norwood knows there will be big challenges on the horizon but he's bullish when it comes to major tournament hopes.

"Euro 2020 has got to be a realistic target," he argued. "We wouldn't be sat here if we didn't believe we could do that.

"As a squad we've achieved it before when everybody wrote us off. Everyone wrote us off at the start of the World Cup campaign, and obviously there were things that went on in the play-off, we were unfortunate not to make it to a World Cup. We believe we can come again, that's why players have decided to carry on, and hopefully we can do that."

The injection of youth into the ranks such as Jamal Lewis, Conor Hazard, Paul Smyth and Shayne Lavery has helped convince Norwood that the squad will remain in good shape.

"They've been great," added the 26-year-old. "It doesn't seem so long ago that I was coming into the squad; they've got to work hard and look to impress Michael, do everything in training that they can.

"For us as players it's great, you see that energy they bring, as a senior player now it makes you up your game. They've got to come in and look to take people's shirts off them.

"There's a few players that will hopefully be knocking on the door and coming to join us soon."

Norwood, who played for England at youth level before switching allegiance to Northern Ireland, has welcomed the news Aaron Hughes and Gareth McAuley have banished retirement thoughts for now.

"It's their decision, but for us as a squad it's great that the two boys have decided to do that," added the midfielder, who is on loan at Fulham from Brighton.

"Obviously they're happy with what we're doing and how we're playing; we've had quite a bit of success and we believe we can have more.

"It's been a long time since we've been together. We've had time away from the disappointment of Switzerland, everybody's come back looking fresh and looking to build on what we've achieved over the last four or five years, and looking to go again as a squad.

"Without being disrespectful to the squads of the past, I don't think it's as easy to get in now as it maybe was before. We've probably 30 players to pick from for 25 places, so competition's good. We want to build on that. We've had success but we're not happy with what we've achieved, we're not settling on that, we want to kick on and go on."

Belfast Telegraph

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