Belfast Telegraph

Top spot not out of reach: Worthy

By Paul Ferguson in Riga

Confident Nigel Worthington is refusing to settle for second best as Northern Ireland's bid to qualify for the Euro 2008 finals reaches a critical period.

Ahead of tonight's match against Latvia in the beautiful city of Riga, Northern Ireland are currently sitting in second place in Group F - two points behind leaders Sweden and one point ahead of the much fancied Spain.

The top two teams qualify for the European Championship finals which are being staged in Austria and Switzerland next summer.

Finishing in second place would be considered an unbelievable achievement but Worthington insists neither he nor his players have given up the fight for top spot.

He doesn't share the view that it would make things easier for his side if leaders Sweden were to run away with the group and therefore take points off Northern Ireland's rivals Spain and Denmark.

Sweden clash with the Danes tonight in Stockholm - a return of the fixture that was marred by a " fan" running on to the pitch to confront the referee in June which resulted in victory for Swedes after the game had been abandoned at 3-3.

Worthington is hoping for a draw to keep ourselves in contention if we defeat Latvia this evening.

He says: "Personally I think a draw would be a nice result because it keeps Sweden within touching distance and keeps Denmark of our backs.

"In an ideal world that is what I would want but you saw what happened the last time the two sides met and it finished in a draw ? the three points then went to Sweden.

" Really though, as long we get three points then we are in charge of our own situation."

Worthington was keeping his cards close to his chest last night as to whether Manchester United's teenage star Jonny Evans would make a return to the team this evening after sitting out the victory over Liechtenstein because of injury.

Burnley defender Michael Duff would likely be the man who drops to the bench but his impressive performance against Liechtenstein may just be enough to persuade Worthington with the same back four who beat the Principality 3-1 at Windsor Park.

"Jonny Evans is fit and raring to go," exclaimed Worthington last night.

"His return doesn't give me a problem - it gives me a nice situation and you can have never enough good players around you.

"Picking the team isn't a problem nor is fitting people into it if I need to.

"Having the good players in my squad is a must and I'm delighted with the quality that is in this squad at this moment in time."

Worthington would not openly admit it, as he always tries to remain positive, but deep down he accepts anything less than victory tonight against a Latvian side who are bottom of Group F would be disastrous to our qualification hopes.

But he's hoping that the experience of dealing with a huge amount of pressure that came before the Liechtenstein match will stand them in good stead for the battle against Latvia.

The team are in super-confident mood and Worthington and his backroom staff have worked hard with the players in training this week preparing them for the challenges that lie ahead tonight.

"This is Liechtenstein all over again. We have got to approach the game in the right manner, make sure we are professional, thorough in our preparation and go on that pitch and do our job.

"After that the game and the result will look after itself.

"We will, as we do with every team, give them the utmost respect but we will only be concentrating on what we have to achieve.

"The mood in the camp is very good, the players have been lively in training and some excellent work has been done this week.

"They've enjoyed it, which from my point of view is very important and now we've got to pull everything together with a performance against Latvia."

Belfast Telegraph


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