Belfast Telegraph

Michael McGovern is happy to see the back of German maestros

By Paul Ferguson in Oslo

Having played merciless Germany three times in the last 16 months, Northern Ireland goalkeeper Michael McGovern would be quite happy if their paths do not cross again during the rest of his international career.

It's nothing personal, the Fermanagh native has nothing but admiration for the skill and desire of the Die Mannschaft players who currently form the greatest team on the planet under coach Joachim Low.

Even off the pitch they ooze class with defender Mats Hummels giving his shirt to a Windsor Park ball boy following their 3-1 victory on Thursday night and skipper and goalscoring superstar Thomas Muller seeking out McGovern in the Northern Ireland dressing room after the game to present him with a signed shirt for the Norwich City man's jersey in return.

As Low departed Windsor he sent his good wishes to Michael O'Neill and his players for the play-offs, said he hoped they would succeed in securing a place in Russia and then hopefully his Germany team would be drawn to face Northern Ireland in the group stages of the 2018 World Cup finals.

Those sentiments were not reciprocated by anyone associated with Northern Ireland

Germany, with players from Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Paris St Germain are simply sensational and proved that on each occasion in Paris, Hannover and Belfast.

McGovern, who has only been breached by Die Mannschaft in this qualifying campaign, admits playing the Germans, due to their dominance and technical ability, is mentally draining.

"I have seen enough of them now," McGovern joked.

"It's just difficult playing them, mentally it's very difficult. They are such a great team and those are the teams when I finish playing football I'll be 'wah I played against those players' and it's an honour to play against them really."

While Muller has scored 37 goals for his national team in 88 appearances, against Northern Ireland in the last three games, he was unable to beat McGovern.

The former Hamilton keeper performed heroics against him in Paris, kept him at bay in Hannover and made a brilliant finger tip save from Muller in the second half which drew a round of applause from the 28 year-old.

"When went 1-0 down and then 2-0 down, my main aim then was not to get tanked because goal difference is going to be massive," concedes 33 year-old McGovern.

"They beat Norway, who are a good side, 6-0, so that was important that we kept strong in the head and not concede anymore goals."

McGovern was reflecting on Thursday night's match after arriving in Oslo, following a short one hour 45 minutes charter from Belfast, with his team-mates yesterday afternoon.

He's adamant the second half performance against Germany, which produced a deserved goal for Northern Ireland right at the death from Josh Magennis, should give the players a confidence boost ahead of tomorrow night's final qualifying match against Norway.

There is huge significance on the game at the Ullevaal Stadion as victory over the Norwegians, who could be without Bournemouth's Josh King due to an injury picked up against San Marino, will not only finally seal a play-off place but may also ensure Northern Ireland are seeded and therefore avoid the big guns Italy, Portugal and Denmark.

"It would be massive (getting a play-off place)," said McGovern. "If you'd told us at the start of the campaign we'd be in this position now, we would have snapped your hand off."

The main cause for concern tomorrow night for Northern Ireland is that Jonny and Corry Evans, Steven Davis, Stuart Dallas, Conor McLaughlin and Josh Magennis are all one booking away from being suspended.

McGovern feels the rules of two cautions throughout a campaign which result in a suspension are unfair but concedes if a player is forced out then it gives another squad member an incredible opportunity.

"It was great that we had no yellow cards against Germany, so that was really good. I think the referee in the last game gave a lot of yellow cards.

"We are now looking forward to Sunday night and we'll just do the usual recovering stuff and look to get into as good shape as possible.

"But the rule is very harsh. I think the bookings carrying on into the play-offs, is incredibly harsh. We have such a small squad, we can't afford to lose too many players, but it gives other boys a chance to step up.

"I was in that position before when Roy (Carroll) got injured (v Romania, 0-0 at home).

"Josh also took his chance the night we qualified for the Euros against Greece. Kyle (Lafferty) was suspended and of course he was massive for us in that campaign.

"But it just shows what can happen - just look at Josh now and what he's doing.

"Let's hope nobody gets suspended, but if someone does, then it's an opportunity for others to come in."

Boss O'Neill is likely to continue tomorrow night with the defensive back four he operated during the second half against Germany while QPR striker Conor Washington, who impressed in his cameo role and also scored against Norway at Windsor Park last March, is pushing for a starting role.

McGovern is hoping to keep his eighth clean sheet of the campaign and for Northern Ireland to record an historic seventh win in World Cup qualifying.

"When we played Norway at home, I thought we were comfortable in the game and there's no reason why we can't come here and get a result."

  • Norway v N Ireland, World Cup qualifying Group C: Ullevaal Stadion, Tomorrow, 7.45 pm

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