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World Cup 2018

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Home Sport Football

Jamie Ward: Drawing on past success will stand Northern Ireland in good stead

Jamie Ward predicts Northern Ireland's previous qualification experience will pay dividends in the second half of their quest to make the World Cup.

Sunday's 2-0 win over Norway at Windsor Park kept Michael O'Neill's team second in Group C and on course for a play-off berth that would determine whether they can reach Russia in 2018.

For a nation that went 30 years without an appearance at a major tournament, the Green and White Army could be travelling to two in three summers thanks to the transformation O'Neill has overseen.

They have already shown they can get over the line when it comes to qualifying having advanced to Euro 2016, and Ward thinks such prior knowledge will be pivotal for their final five games this time around.

"We are not getting carried away, we have been in this position before with the Euros so we have the experience of dealing with these type of pressurised games," he said.

"We are just extremely confident going into every game we play in and we are not worrying about what the other teams in the group do.

"We have made a good start, we have 10 points and we just have to focus like we did in the Euros."

Their ticket to France was booked with a table-topping campaign, though the presence of world champions Germany in their World Cup group means second place, and a likely play-off berth, is realistically the only attainable prize on offer.

The Norwegians consider themselves virtually out of the running already given they now trail the Northern Irish by seven points, and a win over Azerbaijan in June would see O'Neill's side move six clear of them.

That leaves the Czechs, just two behind at this stage, as Northern Ireland's biggest threat to claiming second and they still need to visit Belfast where the Windsor Park tenants last lost a competitive game in 2013.

"I don't think we can worry about other teams - just concentrate on what we can control and that is ourselves," added Ward.

"We have to go away now and play our club football, play well and make sure we come back into the squad in great form and high in confidence come the game against Azerbaijan in the summer."

It was Ward and Conor Washington whose goals laid the foundations for Sunday's win and with a defence marshalled by Gareth McAuley, Jonny Evans and Craig Cathcart, the hosts once again proved unbreakable in keeping a fourth clean sheet of the campaign.

That resolute structure of O'Neill's team has earned the admiration of Norway boss Lars Lagerback.

"They are a very well organised team," he said.

"They have experienced players, they are very calm in the way they play, they have lots of confidence and they were physically very strong.

"The way they worked, I was really impressed. They put pressure on the ball in the defensive part of the game. They have shown after some years that this is a team that is very difficult to beat.

"They have some good players but if you have a very well organised team it's easier for every individual to play well. A well organised team like this is so difficult to beat."

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