Belfast Telegraph

This match does matter to Northern Ireland

Martin O’Neill labelled this week’s international friendlies as meaningless and pointless.

And given the amount of big name withdrawals from Fabio Capello’s England squad for tomorrow night’s clash in Germany, more and more people are beginning to think that the Aston Villa manager is right.

Northern Ireland manager Nigel Worthington would disagree with our 1982 World Cup skipper, and fortunately his players feel the same way.

True, there have been withdrawals from the Northern Ireland squad, but unlike Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, the injured Aaron Hughes, Gareth McAuley and George McCartney weren’t asked to attend their international camp for clarification.

Instead Worthington is happy to focus on those who are in town for tomorrow’s friendly with Hungary at Windsor Park.

And they include Manchester United’s Jonny Evans and Burnley’s Michael Duff, who are relishing the opportunity to play against the Hungarians, friendly or not.

For Duff, who fought back to resurrect his international carrer after recovering from a cruciate ligament knee injury, every game counts.

“I thought that the chance to play international football again had maybe passed me by," said Duff, who scored an important penalty last week when his club knocked Chelsea out of the Carling Cup.

"When I hurt my knee there was a bit of uncertainty in the initial diagnosis.

"It looked in the scans like there might be a couple of things in there that thankfully in the end weren't.

"For a short time though there was a suggestion that I might not make it back, so to be back in the Northern Ireland squad with a chance to win another cap is massive for me. This game with Hungary matters a lot to me and I’m sure to the rest of the lads."

Evans may be making a name for himself with United, but he too is delighted to join up with his international buddies this week.

“There is a great spirit in the Northern Ireland squad and everyone wants to play, whether in a friendly or a qualifier,” said Evans, who had another solid game for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side on Saturday when they beat Stoke 5-0.

Evans has revealed that he was listening to Arctic Monkeys on his iPod when Sir Alex Ferguson told him he was playing against Stoke City last week.

He said: “I was on the team bus and my music was on very loud. I was very excited when the boss told me.”

Belfast Telegraph

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