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Qualifying for World Cup would eclipse Euro adventure, says Evans

 

By Graham Luney

Jonny Evans says Northern Ireland are ready to join the World Cup party and celebrate an even bigger achievement than their Euro 2016 heroics.

Michael O'Neill's side stunned Europe when they made it to the last 16 in France, but the West Brom ace feels the squad is on the brink of creating even more special memories.

Switzerland stand between Northern Ireland and a cherished place in the finals in Russia next summer, with the first play-off showdown kicking off at Windsor Park tonight.

The Swiss may be slight favourites going into the tense double header but O'Neill's men have emerged from their European qualifying campaign a more classy and composed side.

"You can get the impression from the lads the squad is relaxed, we've been in big situations before when we've had to produce over the past couple of years," said the 29-year-old.

"It's business as usual for us and we've spoken before about how, when it comes to crunch time, we've been able to stand up and produce big moments. That gives us an extra sense of composure in the squad and that extra belief.

"We are underdogs, but it has been that way over the years coming into the big moments and it suits us, it's a position with which we are comfortable. So whatever way the game pans out and in terms of going into the second leg we will be comfortable.

"I think to achieve something second time around always feels better so I'm sure we will look on it as a better achievement than the Euros if we qualify.

"To reproduce that hunger and desire for a team like us to go through all of that again will be amazing, so it will eclipse the European Championships."

Evans is no stranger to big games for club and country, but he admits this two legged play-off with such a prestigious prize on the line is something unique.

"I don't think I've been in a position where they've come so quick-fire, when a couple of days later you face the same team again," added for the former Manchester United favourite.

"I don't think any past experiences will help in this situation because the reward right now is off the scale in terms of what we can achieve if we're successful in the tie. The most important thing is not to get carried away in the first game and lose sight of the following game, in terms of suspensions and things like that."

Jonny will once again link up with his brother Corry, making it an extra special family reunion, with one goal in mind.

"Every time we come to an international, Michael (O'Neill) gives us these motivational videos at various times during the week and you feel yourself getting emotional," he added.

"Playing for your country does that to you. We have all come through a lot together as a team, and you get those emotions.

"It's not a case of wasting anything, because what we've done so far, to get to where we are, is an amazing achievement.

"Maybe depending on how the games pan out, if we don't manage to stamp our authority or not give everything we want, we will maybe look back.

"But, at this moment in time, we feel like it is an occasion to enjoy and savour. We are feeling confident about it."

N Ireland vs Switzerland

World Cup Play-Off First Leg

Windsor Park, Tonight, 7.45pm

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