Belfast Telegraph

We're not scared of anyone: Baird

By Mark McIntosh in Riga

Chris Baird last night insisted Northern Ireland are on the verge of qualifying for Euro 2008 because the so called larger nations couldn't take them seriously.

The Fulham defender, who captained his country for the first time against Liechtenstein last month, is convinced the so-called favourites such as Spain and Sweden came to Windsor Park expecting to steam-roll their way to success.

But thanks to an incredible team spirit and David Healy's goals, it's Northern Ireland who sit proudly in second place in Group F and on the verge of their first appearance at a European Championships.

A win in Latvia tomorrow night will set Nigel Worthington's side up perfectly for what promises to be an intriguing encounter against Iceland on Friday.

The players, staff and fans know only a win will be good enough to keep the dreams alive of a trip to Austria and Switzerland next year but Baird is convinced the side has what it takes to mix it with Europe's best.

"We have caused a few big shocks in this tournament so far and that is exactly what we'll be looking to do until the end of the campaign," said Baird.

"Some of the bigger nations like Spain and Sweden came to Windsor Park probably expecting to have everything their own way but we showed them a new side to our game.

"They thought that we weren't a big team and it wouldn't be too difficult but as soon as the games began it was a different story.

"All you have to do is look at the table at the moment and you'll see that we are right up there with Sweden and Spain are behind us.

"All the pressure is on them and we just have to keep doing what we have been doing.

"There is plenty of confidence in our camp and if we can concentrate on our own game then there is no reason why we can't go all the way in this group."

Even though Northern Ireland defeated Latvia 1-0 at Windsor Park last October ? thanks to a strike by the tournament's top marksman David Healy ? Baird is careful to warn against complacency.

"The game at Windsor was tough and they are a very difficult side to break down," he added.

"But if I'm being honest I'd have to say we should have won by a few more goals and we have to keep creating that amount of chances.

"Away games are always going to be more difficult than the comfort of your own home; we know we will probably have to defend for a lot of the 90 minutes but that is something we are prepared to do and we have shown we can do it after getting a point in Denmark under similar circumstances."

Baird's career has taken a massive upturn in fortunes in recent months after securing a move to the Premier League with ex-international boss Lawrie Sanchez and Fulham.

But the ex-Southampton man is all too aware he only has the arm-band until skipper Aaron Hughes is available to return to the fold.

"It has been an absolute honour for me and my family to captain my county but I'm only filling in until Aaron comes back.

"This is a very exciting time in my career with Northern Ireland going so well, me being captain and moving back into the top flight but that can all fall apart very quickly.

"We all want to make it to Euro 2008; we know it is there for the taking but we have to win games like this one in Latvia if that dream is going to stay alive."

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph