Belfast Telegraph

'One hundred per cent yes': Northern Ireland's new side believes upset is on when Germany visit Windsor

Northern Ireland's Steven Davis.
Northern Ireland's Steven Davis.
Michael O'Neill is looking ahead to tomorrow's international against Germany at Windsor Park.
Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

'Hopefully tomorrow night is one of those special nights at Windsor.'

The words of Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis will be etched on the lips of the 18,000 fans that will pack in the National Football Stadium on Monday evening.

A win over Germany would ignite belief that the greatest dream of all is on.

'I'll let you evaluate that,' said a smiling Michael O'Neill when quizzed on the ranking of his achievements so far.

Would beating Germany or the Netherlands to the Euro 2020 finals beat them all?

There's good reason to believe it would. Topping the Euro 2016 qualifying group was breath-taking, but the group was admittedly lacking a footballing super-power thanks to a favourable draw.

This time, it was the group of certain death.

Windsor hasn't witnessed the taming of a true giant since, arguably, Sweden in 2007; a result that followed hot on the heels of the now famous wins over England and Spain.

Now could be Michael O'Neill's time to deliver that landmark victory, except this time it would come with the true chance of qualification.

"In many ways the pressure's on Holland and Germany," said skipper Steven Davis ahead of the four successive games against the group's top two seeds.

"Do I believe we can get results against them? One hundred per cent yes. Would we beat them more than they'd beat us if we played them reguarly? No but hopefully tomorrow night is one of those special nights at Windsor that we can look back on in years to come."

Northern Ireland must either take four points off one of their two rivals or beat Germany and Holland once each to seal automatic qualification. There's little doubt the two home games provide the best opportunity to do that.

And O'Neill reckons there's good reason to believe Germany could be the first to fall.

Northern Ireland and the Germans, of course, have become very familiar foes in recent years, meeting three times since the Euro 2016 finals. Germany have won all three, scoring six times and conceding only once.

However, they're now coming off the back of Friday's 4-2 home defeat to Holland and, with the old-guard of Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng and Thomas Muller gone, it's a new era under Joachim Low.

"You're not going to change your squad from the World Cup and suddenly build that team to the same level in that period of time," said O'Neill. "You need time. The changes they made personnel wise were because they were looking ahead which is understandable.

"Are they more beatable? I suppose possibly they are but that doesn't mean the game is going to be any easier for us and the players know that. We've looked closely at the game and personnel. There are exciting players who can really hurt you and we're well aware of that.

"If any team from a country of our size can qualify from a group with Germany and Holland in it we deserve a wee pat on the back. That's what we're aiming for.

"There's a middle tier of teams in Europe, which I think we're in. We're a small nation but these are the top teams and that's the challenge. If we can come out of this group at the expense of Germany and Holland, it would be an amazing achievement for this group of players."

In the three recent clashes, Northern Ireland have not enjoyed more than 33% of possession but, in front of that altered Germany set-up, O'Neill is hoping his own team can offer a surprising performance.

"We're a much better team than we were certainly in France in terms of possession, we're more athletic and younger so we might pose a different challenge to Germany than possibly what they expect," he said.

"But you can't get a result against Germany without being good without the ball. We know that's a big part of what we have to play but equally we have to be good with the ball as well. Our aim is to have more possession and attacks than in previous games. The last game in Belfast, we put ourselves behind the eight ball after less than two minutes. It's things like that you have to avoid. We have to stay in the game as long as possible and the players are well aware of that."

New Germany. New Northern Ireland.

Now it's time for a old-style shock result.

Do you believe? "One hundred per cent yes."

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