Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland will be ready to turn up the heat in Azerbaijan: Ward

By Paul Ferguson

Northern Ireland have the opportunity to crush Azerbaijan's World Cup dream in June but Jamie Ward says the players are only focused on strengthening their own position in Group C.

An away victory in Baku on June 10 would kill off Azerbaijan's play-off hopes and make it a straight fight between the men in green and Czech Republic.

It will be an extremely difficult assignment, however, as the game comes a month after the end of the domestic season for many of the players.

Ward, who netted the early opener in the 2-0 victory over Norway, concedes: "I don't think we can worry about other teams - just concentrate on what we can control and that is ourselves.

"We have to go away now and play our club football, play well and make sure we come back into the squad in great form and high in confidence come the game against Azerbaijan in the summer.

"We have a training camp and a game against New Zealand prior to Baku so we are not going to be out of football for too long and I would like to think all the players will be working hard to still be in the best possible shape come the game - even though there is a large break between the end of the club season and the game in Baku.

"It's always hard to replicate match practice, even in a training camp, but all we can do is work as hard as we possibly can to make sure we get a result out in Azerbaijan.

"Obviously the weather is going to be hot out there at that time of year and that in itself is going to be a challenge but we will give it everything we have."

While Ward and his goalscoring partner Conor Washington grabbed the glory at Windsor Park, Northern Ireland's rearguard continues to provide the platform for big wins.

"When you look at our back three - Gareth McAuley, Jonny Evans and Craig Cathcart - we have a good back three who are able to soak up a lot of pressure without too much cause for concern," adds Ward.

Belfast Telegraph


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