Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland have 'more than enough' to reach World Cup finals, says Magennis

Northern Ireland forward is targeting a repeat of Euro heroics

By Paul Ferguson in Baku

Proud and passionate Josh Magennis insists Northern Ireland reaching the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia would 'leave a sweeter taste' than qualifying for their first ever European Championship finals in France last summer.

Michael O'Neill's side sent a wave of euphoria around the country when they stunned world football by finishing top of their qualifying group - earning them a place in their first ever Euro finals.

As they prepare for tomorrow night's crucial World Cup qualifying match with Azerbaijan in hot and humid Baku (kick-off 5pm BST), Northern Ireland are once again in an excellent qualifying position.

Victory on the banks of the Caspian Sea - which would be Northern Ireland's first ever win in Baku - would strengthen their grip on second place in Group C, behind runaway leaders and reigning world champions Germany.

A win would keep them at least two points ahead of the Czech Republic and six clear of Azerbaijan with just four matches remaining.

As group runners-up, Northern Ireland would then face a two-legged play-off before they are once again able to dine at the top table of world football for the first time in 32 years since Billy Bingham led his boys to Mexico.

Magennis, who is expected to lead Northern Ireland's attack against Azerbaijan alongside Liam Boyce, said: "It would be a harder way of getting to a finals because only one team qualifies automatically while last time in the Euros there was the added insurance of two teams going through and a third-placed team in a play-off.

"To get to Russia you would have to play unbelievably well in the group stages and then even better in the play-offs. In that sense, I wouldn't say it would be better (than qualifying for the Euros), but it would certainly leave a sweeter taste that you have gone through so many games and you have still managed to get there.

"It's going to be hard, we're not counting our chickens, but we know we have got more than enough to get to the World Cup finals and it's all about taking one game at a time."

Magennis and his team-mates fly into Baku this afternoon from their warm weather training camp in Antalya, Turkey before training at the Tofiq Bahramov Stadium tonight.

The 26-year-old added: "We have given them the respect they deserve by having a tough camp in Turkey preparing for this match, but we expect to win and I believe we have the players capable of making sure we are successful in Baku."

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