Belfast Telegraph

We're still living the impossible dream: Craigan

By Paul Ferguson

Straight-talking centre half Stephen Craigan is confident Northern Ireland will prove tomorrow night that last year's memorable win over Spain at Windsor Park was no fluke.

Northern Ireland head into the crunch game in Las Palmas with qualification for the Euro 2008 still a possibility.

But if they are to achieve what many believe is the impossible dream then they must beat Spain - a team packed full of superstars including Andrés Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, David Albelda, Xavi Hernández and David Villa - and hope Sweden slip up against Latvia in Stockholm.

In essence a minor miracle is needed, however Craigan is remaining positive and optimistic.

Last year's 3-2 victory over the Spanish is evidence that Northern Ireland can live and compete with their star players.

Craigan says: "A lot of people probably say we shouldn't even be on the same pitch as these guys and in some respects maybe players like myself shouldn't be, but we're here to do a job and are still clinging to this little dream we have.

" We thought it had gone, it came back, it went away again, now it's back. From September 3, 2006 to now, what a turnaround. We were in the doldrums, we thought it had gone and yet here we are taking it to the last game, it's wonderful for us to even be involved. It's a massive ask, we're not stupid but who knows?"

Las Palmas was a surprise choice of venue for this final qualifying match. Spain have played here only twice before and Craigan says their decision to stage the game in the holiday hotspot which is Gran Canaria may have down to the fact the Spanish believed this game was going to be a dead rubber.

"I firmly believe that they didn't think we'd be in contention now. We'll take them to Gran Canaria, they'll have a party for three days and they'll bring 4,000 or 5,000 supporters and we'll make a bit of money off them," added Craigan.

"But we've still got something very much to play for. Spain are now through and their players will be worried about their club games and injuries so hopefully that may play in our hands.

"We're hoping they will play their 'D' team to give us a wee chance. For these guys are the pinnacle, they are playing for the top teams, challenging for championships and Champions League titles.

"We are going to have to have 11 or 14 guys playing at the peak of their performance to stand any chance of getting through."

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph