Belfast Telegraph

Midfielder Norwood confident we'll fending off rivals

By Adam McKendry

Northern Ireland midfielder Oliver Norwood says that the squad are fully focused on securing second place in Group C in the second half of their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign. With World champions Germany dominating the group, winning all five of their games so far, realistically the best chance of Northern Ireland securing a place in Russia is through the play-offs.

To do so they would need to hold onto second place, the position they are currently in following Sunday's 2-0 win over Norway at Windsor Park.

Michael O'Neill's men have 10 points after their first five games - a loss away to Germany and a draw in Prague their only blemishes - with the Czechs two points behind on eight and Azerbaijan on seven.

Brighton star Norwood says they'll not look at catching Germany, but put all their attention towards maintaining their second place position, starting with the trip to Baku in June.

"We'll just take them out of it and try to be the best of the rest," the 25-year old said.

"They're the World champions and have been a fantastic team and I'm sure everybody expects them to win the group, so we'll do all that we can do.

"The game now in June is massive and I think, without being disrespectful, it becomes a two horse race between ourselves and the Czechs for that second place.

"(Sunday) was very important for us, we had a lot of focus in training and we knew the significance of getting to 10 points."

The 2-0 win was another comfortable victory at home in this campaign, meaning Northern Ireland have won all three of their games at Windsor Park, scoring 10 goals and keeping three clean sheets.

Jamie Ward's second minute strike was enough for the win, with Conor Washington's smart finish giving them some breathing space, but in the end Michael McGovern was only called into action on one occasion, reflecting the simplicity of the win.

"It was (comfortable), yeah," Norwood admitted. "We haven't lost a competitive game at home for the last three or four years so once we get in front we're difficult to play against.

"The crowd are right behind us and I think there's a real belief coming into games that we are going to win.

"It's a pleasure to be a part of this group, to work with these players and the manager. We just want to keep the good times going and keep working hard and progressing."

With the chance of qualifying for a second major tournament now a considerable possibility, Norwood also admits that they will be drawing on as much experience as possible from their last qualifying campaign.

"We've been through it before, we're an experienced group, we've qualified for a major tournament, we know that feeling of going out and winning games," he says.

"We have experience in the squad, a lot of caps, and I think the experience of the last campaign of getting over the line and winning the group, we can draw on that experience."

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