Belfast Telegraph

Watch: I'll do all I can to secure World Cup spot, says Northern Ireland centurion Davis


By Steven Beacom

Steven Davis will approach his 100th cap for Northern Ireland as he has done the rest of his football care - aiming to make the most out of it.

And on this occasion that means securing a result against Switzerland at Windsor Park on Thursday night that can take Northern Ireland a step closer to their World Cup dream.

Manager Michael O'Neill believes it is fitting that Davis will make his landmark appearance in such a massive match.

Davis says he will be more than happy to look back on it with pride once the job is done for the team in Belfast and Basel, where the return leg will take place on Sunday.

The 32-year-old Southampton midfielder has enjoyed a brilliant career at club and international level and is rightly regarded as one of Northern Ireland's greats.

Who's excited for Thursday? 🙌🏽 Our captain, leader and legend Steven Davis is set for his 100th cap. Did he ever dream...

Posted by Belfast Telegraph Sport on Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Reaching the World Cup finals would be the highlight, surpassing unforgettable victories over England and Spain, being the first Northern Ireland captain to lead the nation to the European Championships, winning trophies galore at boyhood club Rangers and leading the Saints out at Wembley in the League Cup final against Manchester United earlier this year.

Davis is not one to take anything for granted - he is grateful and gracious about what the game has given him.

"I have been very fortunate with my entire career. Football has given me a lot," he says.

"I have enjoyed every moment and tried to make the most of every moment. My approach has always been to try and make the most of every opportunity, give my all and go as far as I can and help the team as much as I can.

"That's what I'll be doing against Switzerland in the World Cup play-offs. The focus for me is to try and help Northern Ireland secure the results that would take us to next year's finals."

Davis was instrumental in Michael O'Neill's side qualifying for the Euro 2016 finals.

It's just over two years ago that he scored twice against Greece in a 3-1 home victory that took Northern Ireland to their first major tournament since 1986.

O'Neill knew in the absence of some big hitters that night - including striker Kyle Lafferty who had been on fire in that qualifying campaign - that he needed a hero to step up and his captain delivered.

Davis dedicated his goals and the win to his beloved mum Laura who had passed away in 2008 after losing her battle with cancer.

"That was an emotional night and one I look back on personally as one of my best memories in a Northern Ireland shirt," said Davis.

"To get two goals in such an important game was great for me personally but there was a lot of hard work done by the manager, the staff and the players before that.

"Qualifying for the Euros was a real squad effort and getting to the World Cup play-offs has been the same. For the Greece game, we all knew the consequences of what a win would do and now we have two games to play with a World Cup place at stake."

The skipper references manager O'Neill when he says no stone will be unturned in Northern Ireland's quest for a place in Russia.

In O'Neill's first qualifying campaign as boss, Northern Ireland only won a single game - against Russia at Windsor - but, throughout that difficult period, Davis was a strong voice in backing the boss to the hilt.

"The first campaign results-wise was very disappointing and we can't hide away from that fact but I think there was belief in him and all the players were pretty vocal in our support for Michael," said Davis.

"We believed we were doing the right things and making progress but there are such fine lines with getting results - we just needed to manage certain situations in games and become a little more streetwise.

"To be fair to Michael, he has looked at everything to give us the best platform to go and be successful and that includes travel, food, recovery strategies, training, set up of the team and how he wants us to play. It has worked."

Northern Ireland enter the two legged affair with the Swiss on the back of two defeats in a row, one that was expected at home to World Champions Germany and the other in Norway when, just before the game, O'Neill and his players learned they had made the play-offs.

Davis feels that defeat may work in Northern Ireland's favour this week.

"The Norway game showed that if we aren't bang at it, you won't get results so hopefully that was a good lesson to learn at the right time," he said. "There are a number of us in the squad who have been around long enough to know how difficult it is to get results at international level.

"There have been some tough times along the way but that only makes us more determined to keep these good times going. We want to make it to the World Cup. We know how much it would mean and we will give it our all."

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