Belfast Telegraph

All bases have been covered and Northern Ireland are ready for battle, vows Davis


Bi Graham Luney

Steven Davis has offered an insight into how Northern Ireland's players will be armed with all the information they need to shoot down Switzerland and make it to Russia.

Northern Ireland's captain marvel will win his 100th cap in the first leg of the play-off double header tomorrow night but his sole focus is on guiding his country to the World Cup finals next summer.

The Southampton ace will never forget the Euro 2016 adventure that ended in the knockout stages in France, but he has an even bigger prize within his grasp and manager Michael O'Neill will leave no stone unturned in preparing his troops for battle.

The players have already received extensive notes on every single Switzerland player, and their opponent's strengths and weaknesses will be explored in extensive detail.

"We've done a lot of homework on the Swiss," Davis reveals. "Michael is always well prepared. As soon as we got in he had little paper booklets made up with information. We'll have specific meetings looking at their strengths and weaknesses, we'll know every detail we need to know and be ready for kick off.

"We get information on every single player in their squad and we will watch video analysis on them on how they attack and defend in certain situations.

"It'll be a tough task, they're a very good side, but we've been doing our homework.

"They're very comfortable in possession and they like to build through the lines. We'll need to be patient on the night and get that balance right.

"It's a new experience for us all, playing in a huge game for your country in a game of this importance.

"You can't tell about the home or away first question until the game is played.

"The biggest thing is that even if we don't get the result we want in the first game we must keep our heads, stay calm and realise there is time for us to achieve what we want.

"I'm excited, really looking forward to it, we all understand the ramifications of the two results but it's a great position to be in.

"We are exactly where we wanted to be before a ball was kicked in the group so we have it all to gain, we just need to go out there and show that intensity we've found over the years and continue that.

"In all honesty I'm not counting caps. I don't want anything to distract from my or the team's preparations for the game.

"That will be at the very back of my mind. It's a huge landmark, and I'm delighted to reach it, but my focus is solely on the game and hopefully after the play-offs I can look back and say it was a special achievement."

Davis, whose first senior international appearance was a 1-0 friendly defeat at home to Canada in 2005, has endured quite a few lows in his Northern Ireland career, but darker times have served to give him even greater satisfaction during this golden period when back-to-back major tournaments is a real possibility.

"I've been reminiscing about my debut, and from a personal level it was nice to play in the game but the performance and result was not what we desired," added the Cullybackey man.

"It was a good introduction to international football. It's quite incredible the progress we have made. Players involved in the squad for a long time understand how difficult it is to get consistent results in international football.

"I've said it before, it makes you appreciate the success we have had more. The newer additions to the squad only know good times but there's very fine lines as numerous games can be decided by a set-piece or moment of brilliance.

"The mentality of the group is the same. We'll keep our feet on the ground and not get carried away. With the success we've had it's left us wanting more and there's a determination there.

"I've had some very difficult moments but I don't think we ever truly believed we would quality for the Euros. We had fallen short before but there was an extra place up for grabs in the Euros and it gave us belief we could achieve something. We won the group but the extra place give us an added incentive.

"In this World Cup group, Germany were always going to win it and it was about fighting for second place. We have two massive games now and it's going to be special nights hopefully for us.

"If you play that number of games you are going to have highs and lows. It's been nice starting on a low and then coming into this high rather than the other way round. I'm really enjoying it. It is difficult when you come away with nothing to show for it but the last few years have been special."

The former Rangers ace said he was thrilled to pick up his MBE at Buckingham Palace where the Duke of Cambridge handed over the medal.

"It was great meeting Prince William and a great experience.

"It's something you're not used to but it was great to be in the room with other great people receiving their awards. They've done very well in their own fields whether it is police, military, ambulance or professors and it was nice to experience that with my family.

"Prince William was very knowledgeable on the game. He talked about the play-offs, knew we were playing the Swiss and said it would be very difficult but he wished us all the best. It's very humbling to be there and recognise what people have achieved in their lives.

"I got an award for doing something that I have loved."

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