Northern Ireland v Germany: Mats wind-up is Windsor World Cup boost
Mischievious Germany star Mats Hummels has provided Northern Ireland players and fans with a massive incentive for tonight’s crucial World Cup qualifier against the reigning world champions at Windsor Park.
Bayern Munich star Hummels is far and away the most popular opposing player among Northern Ireland fans after hailing them during the Euro 2016 finals in France last year.
And many were left believing a wind-up tweet from Hummels on his way to Belfast yesterday was quite deliberate to stoke up the atmosphere for the biggest World Cup match at the national stadium since qualification for the Mexico 86 finals, 31 years ago.
Hummels, who will captain Germany in the absence of injured skipper Manuel Neuer, tweeted from the team plane en route Belfast: ‘Look who is coming for you #gawa’, name checking the Green and White Army of fans who so impressed him in France.
Hummels and his team-mates loved the noise and colour Northern Ireland fans brought to the Euro 2016 finals where they defeated Northern Ireland 1-0 in a group game in Paris.
The classy centre-back later added he was expecting a “hard game in a passionate environment” but his teasing tweet provoked a big response from fans including former Northern Ireland international Stephen Craigan and boxer Carl Frampton who aimed playful swipes back.
Northern Ireland skipper Steven Davis said: “He’s been very impressed with our fans and I’m sure all the Germany players are looking forward to sampling the atmosphere at Windsor Park. Hopefully we can make it a difficult night for them.”
Northern Ireland have already secured a top two spot in Group C and remain firmly on course to claim a play-off spot for next summer’s finals in Russia ahead of tonight’s game and Sunday’s trip to Norway for the final group game.
But Germany still have work to do to book their ticket to Russia and need a point at Windsor to achieve that mission.
Michael O'Neill's men know a positive result against Germany or in Norway on Sunday will enhance their chances of being seeded for a play-off draw, possibly steering them clear of formidable opponents such as Portugal and Italy.
The Northern Ireland boss called on the fans to help his side inflict Germany's first ever World Cup qualifying defeat on the road, saying: "It's going to be a really great atmosphere, we need the crowd to give us more energy, we need them to energise the team.
"The players will be extremely tired in moments and hopefully they can draw on that energy. We've presented the Germans as a formidable opponent but not an invincible opponent."
Skipper Steven Davis insisted the mighty Germans could be beaten, saying: "Football's a funny game.
"It will be physically and mentally draining, and we will obviously need a lot of things to go right for us, but you have to go into it with that mentality and belief that we can win the game and we are going to give it a right go and hopefully we can show our abilities."
Northern Ireland defender Conor McLaughlin has also warned against complacency, saying: "It's obviously satisfying that we've got second place in the group and, unless there are some unlikely results, we'll probably get to the play-offs, but we still need to make sure the job is done. They're expected to win but we want to prove to ourselves that we can get a result against the World champions."
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