World Cup penalty controversy will drive me on to succeed, vows Corry Evans
Northern Ireland star Corry Evans has revealed that the pain of being involved in the controversial moment that led to World Cup woe will drive him on in the nation's bid to qualify for the Euro 2020 finals.
Speaking at an event in which McDonald's announced it would be renewing its partnership with the Irish FA to improve the standard of grassroots football in Northern Ireland, Blackburn Rovers midfielder Evans outlined his hopes for club and country for the season ahead.
The dream ticket is promotion to the Premier League and helping put Northern Ireland in position to reach another major tournament.
Evans was incredibly unfortunate in the first leg of Northern Ireland's World Cup play-off at home to Switzerland in November when he was adjudged to have handled Xherdan Shaqiri's shot in the box. The penalty should never have been awarded but Ricardo Rodriguez stepped up to score from the spot.
It proved to be the only goal of the tie and while the Swiss went on to make the last 16 of the World Cup finals in Russia, Evans and his team-mates had to watch the competition from home.
"I think what happened at Windsor that night will drive me on. It was a tough pill to swallow at the time. Hopefully we can qualify for Euro 2020 and move on," said Evans, who has become an important member of Michael O'Neill's squad.
"Once you have tasted playing in a major finals it whets your appetite and you want more. Everyone in the squad feels that.
"You saw what sort of impact reaching Euro 2016 had on the country, the fans and also on us as players and hopefully we can add to those memories by qualifying again. After going so close to qualifying for the World Cup, the big aim for us now is to reach the next European Championship finals."
Evans, younger brother of new Leicester City defender Jonny, has 47 caps to his name. Closing in on the half century, he has become a big game performer for his country with manager O'Neill never afraid to throw the hard-working midfielder into the fray against top opposition.
"Michael has belief in me and trusts me to do a job and I do whatever I can to help the team," said Evans, who started his career at Manchester United.
"Under Michael the team and the squad has got better. Results have shown that. We don't want to stop and with Michael signing a new deal we want to progress even more and get the best out of everyone.
"I'm coming close to 50 caps so I have a lot of experience international-wise and the manager has been great for myself and the whole team."
As a proud native of Northern Ireland, Evans is delighted that McDonald's is continuing to support grassroots football in the country, signing on for another four years with the IFA. He feels the scheme, which sees McDonald's work with thousands of youngsters here, is of great benefit.
"It's massively important. The Northern Ireland football team is limited with the pool of players we can choose from so schemes like the McDonald's programme can help develop young talent and improve the standard of players coming through the ranks," said Evans, who is hoping that Blackburn, after winning promotion last term, kick-off their Championship campaign with a victory at Ipswich Town tomorrow.
"Our aim is promotion. In the Championship anyone can go up but being realistic we would probably be looking for a good start, keeping the momentum going from last season and getting into the play-offs.
"It's a tough league and one I've played in most of my career so I know on any given day any team can beat any team.
"This season there's more money coming down from the Premier League with parachute payments and there's a lot of big transfer fees and wages being thrown round in the Championship at the moment so it is getting harder to go up every year, but in this division you just never know who can get promoted."