Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland want second leg at home so GAWA can roar us to Russia: Magennis

 

By Steven Beacom

Josh Magennis would love to seal the World Cup qualification deal at Windsor Park. Along with everyone else involved with the Northern Ireland team, the Charlton Athletic striker is eagerly anticipating next Tuesday's play-off draw in Zurich when not only will the eight competing nations find out their opponents but also when the respective home and away legs will take place.

Unlike in the past, seeded teams may be forced to play the on the road second time around which means there is a 50/50 chance of the deciding leg being staged in Belfast.

Magennis believes that would give Northern Ireland an important advantage, declaring that the Green and White Army could roar Michael O'Neill's side on to a famous victory and help them qualify for next year's finals in Russia.

"Hopefully we can be away first and get a good result, then come home and seal the deal," said Magennis, who enjoyed a fantastic qualifying campaign in Group C.

"Football is crazy and nothing is ever perfect but that's the plan we need to have.

"It would be great to have the second game at Windsor. The Green and White Army are crazy and create an intense atmosphere. If you haven't played there before it would be intimidating.

"I don't care who the opposition are, our fans are always our 12th man.

"It's like cup football now with a home and an away leg and hopefully we can get to Russia."

Over half of the team that started in the final group game against Norway on Sunday night were one booking away from a suspension that would have ruled them out of next month's opening showdown.

Magennis was included on the list.

Not surprisingly, discussions about potential yellow cards were high on the agenda before and after the 1-0 loss in Oslo with relief that all those walking a tightrope came through the match versus Norway with no issues.

"Michael stressed we needed a full squad available for the play-offs and we managed to keep our discipline. That was vital," said Magennis, who had scored in the 3-1 home loss to World Champions Germany a few days before.

"When there was a 50/50, it's not like we pulled out but there was no need to go full-blooded and put yourself at risk of another yellow.

"If you were to miss out on the play-off, it would be something that would haunt you for the rest of your life so it was important for all of us to come through unscathed. It's easy to get caught up in the emotions of a game.

"Maybe if someone has caught you in a game and you see the opportunity to have a go back, always within the laws of the game, it's on your mind but it takes good character and preparation not to leave yourself vulnerable.

"To have everyone available is important and hopefully we'll have a fully fit squad for next month."

On Norway, where Northern Ireland didn't perform as they can after hearing shortly before kick-off that they had made the play-offs following Scotland's failure to win in Slovenia earlier in the day, Magennis explained: "It was a weird feeling walking off the pitch. We wanted to win the game but that wasn't the case.

"I think Michael summed it up in the meeting after the game; he said all our hard work was done earlier in the campaign. We're delighted to secure a play-off place. We would have liked to have been seeded but the play-off will be tough either way."

Midfielder Oliver Norwood, who also entered the match in Oslo under the threat of suspension, added that while disappointed to lose the final two matches in the group, none of the players would be feeling low in confidence approaching next month's play-off.

"To lose two on the bounce at the end of the campaign was a real blow; we haven't done that in a long, long time," sad Norwood, who claimed his 50th cap at the weekend.

"We can't get too downbeat, though. We did the hard work in the previous eight games and put ourselves in a great position.

"We have to enjoy the occasion and look forward to November - and give it a real good go.

"We want to be part of a major tournament again and we'll be doing everything possible to make that happen.

"We don't fear anyone. Even playing Germany, we respected them and how good thy are, but we had a plan to beat them, even if we didn't manage it. We set out to make the play-offs but now we want more.

"I was so proud to make my 50th appearance for Northern Ireland, even if the result wasn't what we wanted. Hopefully there will be plenty more to come. I'm not an emotional type of person so I took it in my stride but it was a really proud moment and one I'll never forget. Getting to the World Cup would top it off."

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