Belfast Telegraph

Who I want to see win the World Cup, reveals Northern Ireland's Gareth McAuley

By Paul Ferguson

Gareth McAuley isn't enamoured by the prospect of wall-to-wall coverage of the World Cup next month.

The Northern Ireland defender would normally be an avid fan of the greatest show on earth, but the pain of losing out to Switzerland in controversial fashion in last November's play-offs is still lingering.

It may have subsided over the last six months but, when the tournament starts in Russia on June 14, McAuley and his team-mates may cast their minds back to those games and wonder 'what if?'

"It will be tough to watch," says the 38-year-old.

"We obviously beat Korea in March and they are one of the teams at the finals, so that gives you more to think about. But that's football. You take the rough with the smooth.

"Obviously it was frustrating to come so close and we think of the incident that put us out in the end. We'll still watch it but with a little bit of envy."

In the last two years, Northern Ireland have played world champions Germany three times - once at the Euro finals and twice during qualifying for Russia.

The Germans won all three, but their players and management teams always showed Michael O'Neill's men nothing but respect - and 'Big G' would like to see them retain the crown they won in Brazil four years and join the Samba Boys on five global titles.

But the Brazilians, out for revenge against Germany following their 7-1 humiliation in 2014, could be their biggest challengers - although the fitness of Neymar will be crucial to their chances.

McAuley adds: "I would like to see Germany go on and win it again because we've obviously had a lot of recent history with them, including in the Euros and during qualification.

"They have always been gracious and kind to us. They have fantastic players.

"They are a really strong side and they will take some beating out there."

In a Belfast Telegraph interview this week, McAuley stated that he will carry on playing international football for at least another year and is on the look out for a new club with his West Bromwich Albion contract due to expire next month. Sadly though, he will not be around for another World Cup qualification process for Qatar in 2022.

Fifa are currently considering increasing team numbers and, while that could give Northern Ireland a better chance of qualification, McAuley says you can't rule out O'Neill's men getting there automatically like they did for France and Euro 2016.

He concludes: "It takes away possibly (by making World Cup bigger).

"We qualified for the Euros and everyone was saying that it was because they opened it up and allowed more teams to qualify. But we topped our group and would have been there anyway. We deserved to be there.

"We're not going to the World Cup and there are other teams who are better than us who aren't going. But in the same light, there are teams who we have beaten and they will be at the World Cup.

"It will be interesting to see what Fifa do."

Belfast Telegraph

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