Belfast Telegraph

We can shake up the World, insists Magennis


By Paul Ferguson

History is against Northern Ireland in Basel tomorrow night. No team, having lost their home match in the first leg of a play-off, has ever qualified for the World Cup finals.

Northern Ireland are licking their wounds following Switzerland's controversial 1-0 win at Windsor Park. They feel aggrieved and dismayed that Romanian referee Ovidiu Hategan ruled against them in such a devastating manner.

Tomorrow night Northern Ireland will be entering a Swiss fortress. Switzerland have only ever lost twice competitively at St Jakob Park in 16 years (both times to England in 2010 and 2014).

Optimistic striker Josh Magennis argues Northern Ireland have been breaking records for the last four years and now they are primed and ready to heap World Cup disappointment on the Swiss.

The Charlton hitman insists with the game at the 'half time' stage Northern Ireland, despite being outplayed for the majority of the match on Thursday night, can improve dramatically and score the goals needed to book their ticket to Russia next summer.

The 27 year-old Bangor lad, who is likely to start on the right flank again in Basel, points to the fact that Northern Ireland were viewed as down and out after their opening defeat to Poland in Euro 2016, yet roared back with one of the most impressive performances against Ukraine and won 2-0 in Lyon.

"Well, there is a first time for everything," said Magennis, when asked if Northern Ireland could stun world football by becoming the first team to go through after losing their home leg.

"We're not worried about that stat. We will just go out to win the game.

"It's the same sort of scenario as in the Euros when we had to beat Ukraine. We're 1-0 down with 90 minutes to play."

Magennis accepts Northern Ireland did not perform to the level the Green and White Army have become accustomed to in recent times at Windsor Park, but with all the pressure now on the Swiss, Michael O'Neill's men will be gunning to exploit any vulnerability.

"They probably had a bit more possession but we didn't get dominated or cut apart to the extent we did against Germany," stated Magennis.

"It was back and forth, sussing each other out. Neither team created clear-cut chances. It was just a penalty that decided the game which is unfortunate.

"We're going there to rock and roll while their manager has a decision whether to play the same or try to defend the lead.

"We know we have to score, we have to win. We have to score more goals than them.

"The value of that is, if we do score one or two the away goal counts.

"Either way we have to win. That's our way of looking at it. We go out to win every game and if we manage to beat Switzerland there is more of a chance of us going through."

While Northern Ireland were rocked and hurt by the low blow from the ref to penalise Corry Evans for handball in the box, even though the ball clearly hit his back, the introduction of Jamie Ward and George Saville really galvanised the team and suddenly they became much more of an attacking threat. Magennis used his long throws as a key weapon and should have scored from a free header in the box.

Corry Evans was hit with a double blow as the yellow card for the 'handball' rules him out of tomorrow night's game.

"In these type of games you can't let the emotion take over," says Magennis. "You have to forget about it.

"Most of the lads were like 'it's done, don't be thinking about it. It's gone'.

"Michael and the rest of the backroom staff will analyse the game. We'll go through the good stuff and the bad stuff, where he thinks we can exploit them, and then we'll just get ready for this game.

"Obviously it's a double whammy for Corry. He's a massive part of the squad and the team. For him to be missing out is crazy. This is football. One person's downfall is someone else's chance to gain.

"You've seen the way George Saville came in, he looks a composed player. It's his chance to step in in a crucial game. He has more than enough talent to step in."

Northern Ireland could have had their own penalty kick with eight minutes left and the game could have been poised very differently when Magennis seemingly struck the ball against the arm of Ricardo Rodriguez - but much to the frustration of the majority of people inside Windsor Park, the ref waved play on.

"I thought it was a penalty," exclaimed Magennis.

"When I whipped it across, I thought his body angle was a bit too much for him to chest it down back to the keeper. But if you're not 100 per cent sure then you can't give it, that's maybe what he did.

"It's got to be the same in both boxes. When I saw it hit Corry I wasn't 100 per cent sure it was a penalty, so I wouldn't have been able to give it.

"Seeing it back, it wasn't a penalty. It's incredible but these things happen in football.

"We're professionals, we've got to let it go and get ready to go on Sunday."

In recent years, Michael O'Neill's men have made waves by becoming the first Northern Ireland side to qualify for the Euro finals, reaching the last 16 in France, and going on a long unbeaten run at Windsor Park.

But if they were to overcome Switzerland in St Jakob Park, smash the World Cup play-off record and reach Russia it would go down as the greatest achievement in Northern Ireland football history.

Switzerland vs N Ireland

World Cup Play-off Second Leg (1-0):

St Jakob Park, Sunday, 5.00pm

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