Belfast Telegraph

Plenty of positives but nothing can take sting out of Northern Ireland's World Cup exit: Davis

 

By Paul Ferguson

Along with the highs of a medal haul at Rangers, major international upsets and qualification for the Euro 2016 finals, Northern Ireland skipper Steven Davis has endured many disappointing moments as a professional footballer.

Losing the Uefa Cup final in 2008 while at Rangers was tough to take, being beaten by Luxembourg and Azerbaijan in 2013 was embarrassing, while Wales booting Northern Ireland out of the Euro 2016 finals in the knock-out stages, despite Michael O'Neill's team being the better side, was gut-wrenching.

But the 32-year-old Southampton star admits nothing will come close to the heartache he has felt since the final whistle in Basel on Sunday night after Northern Ireland's scoreless draw with Switzerland.

Davis was distraught as he realised his World Cup dream was over. He'll likely never have a chance to dine along with his Northern Ireland team-mates at the top table of world football.

The fact the game has been decided by a blatant mistake from a referee - Ovidiu Hategan awarded Switzerland a penalty for a handball on Corry Evans during the first leg even though it clearly hit his back - has just added to the misery currently being felt by every member of the Northern Ireland squad.

The Irish FA are currently in the process of trying to pursue Fifa, the organisers of the World Cup, for compensation, but that is no consolation to Davis.

Davis concedes: "It's a very difficult blow to take but going into the match we had said we couldn't allow that (the referee mistake) to affect us and we had to approach the game without thinking about the controversy and in the right manner.

"We gave it everything - nothing is going to make it any easier to accept. I'm obviously very proud of all the boys and I think they can all hold their heads up high after the performance we produced in Basel. But it doesn't make it any easier to accept at this point.

"Everyone outside our country didn't give us a chance in Switzerland. I think we proved a few people wrong with our performance.

"I'm very proud of the boys, we kept plugging away right to the very end but we just couldn't get that opportunity."

While defender Gareth McAuley and Aaron Hughes are in the twilight of their international careers - with Big G set to turn 38 next month and the reliable Hearts defender already that age, Davis got a chance to play with some of the next generation of Northern Ireland players in Basel.

George Saville (24) was given his first international start and excelled in midfield alongside the skipper, while confident winger Jordan Jones made his Northern Ireland debut as a second half substitute as the team chased the goal that would take the play-off into extra time.

Davis added: "All the boys who came on did really well. I thought George was excellent in midfield and for Jordan to come on in a game of that magnitude and attack the full back the way he did and considering the full back was very experienced, it was very positive.

"There are no negatives to take from Basel, only positives but obviously I just feel gutted at this moment in time."

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