Belfast Telegraph

We have no reason to fear anyone in the play-offs, says Saville

Cut out: Northern Ireland midfielder George Saville does battle with Germany ace Joshua Kimmich in Frankfurt
Cut out: Northern Ireland midfielder George Saville does battle with Germany ace Joshua Kimmich in Frankfurt

By Paul Ferguson

Hardy midfielder George Saville insists Northern Ireland will dust themselves down after the awful Frankfurt drubbing and fancy their chances against any of three teams standing in the way of a place at Euro 2020.

Northern Ireland will meet Bosnia and Herzegovina away from home on March 26 in the play-off semi-final, with the winner clashing with either Slovakia or the Republic of Ireland in the final five days later to decide who goes to the Euros.

With a four-month international break until those play-off games, Saville is confident Tuesday night's horror show for Northern Ireland, with the Germans romping to a 6-1 win, will be easily eradicated from their memory.

Instead, the men in green will focus on their positive performances in Group C, which won them 12 points against Estonia and Belarus and plaudits for how they took the fight to the Netherlands in both games and Germany at Windsor Park in September.

And 26-year-old Saville believes Northern Ireland are a much-improved side from the team that dominated Bosnia both home and away in the Nations League last year, but came away empty-handed.

Saville stresses Northern Ireland, with the prize so great, are capable of defeating all three teams - whether the matches are in Belfast or away from home.

"Out there (in Bosnia) I hit the post, Gavin Whyte hit the post and we played well," admitted Saville, who won his 21st cap in Frankfurt just over two years since he made his debut against Germany.

"It's great to know who we play, and it is something to look forward to. Playing away for the national team is always tough but we showed away to Holland that when we prepare right, we can be a good side.

"Last year in the Nations League we showed how good we were, we just didn't finish the chances off. We have to get our heads round that and give ourselves a chance of getting to the Euros.

"But we have a great opportunity and it's special. There are three teams there (Bosnia, Slovakia and the Republic) that we believe we can beat. We have the best fans in the world supporting us and with their backing, we feel we can do it."

There were over 2,500 members of the Green and White Army at the Commerzbank-Arena on Tuesday night and they gave their usual superb support, even when Germany were scoring for fun.

Saville added: "Hearing our fans in Frankfurt supporting us, it gets the hairs on the back of your neck to stand up."

Germany head into the Euros buoyant after their 6-1 demolition of Northern Ireland, knowing they have the firepower and reinforcements to be one of the favourites for the tournament.

Saville was blown away by their attacking prowess, with Serge Gnabry, Leon Goretzka, Ilkay Gundogan and Julian Brandt an unstoppable force at times, especially when aided and abetted by midfielders Toni Kroos and Joshua Kimmich along with Jonas Hector and Lukas Klostermann on the flanks. Striker Timo Werner wasn't even involved on Tuesday and will come back into the side.

However, even though they might be frightening in attack, Saville has reservations about their defence. With Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels no longer part of the squad, Joachim Low played Juventus midfielder Emre Can at centre-back alongside Jonathan Tah.

Saville stated: "We couldn't have asked for a better start with the goal but then that just piled the pressure even more on us. They had more urgency and their finishing was so clinical.

"Their movement with their front three and their midfield three is incredible. It is just relentless, and they are a top, top side. They are one of the best teams I have ever played against.

"Against Holland away that was tough, but we were in control, we kept them in front of us and I felt comfortable. Germany away - they hurt you anytime they wanted. They are a really good side."

He continued: "Attacking-wise, they are the best I've seen. Defensively, not as strong. They are still strong, but they are better going forward. If they manage to get their defence right, they have a very good chance (of winning the tournament)."

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