Belfast Telegraph

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We've got the bottle to secure a World Cup spot: Magennis


By Adam McKendry

After Monday night's 2-0 win over the Czech Republic, and the guarantee of second place in World Cup qualifying Group C, Josh Magennis' message to world football was simple - Northern Ireland are now a force to be reckoned with.

That's five straight wins for Michael O'Neill's men, seven clean sheets in their last eight and second place wrapped up with two games to spare in a group that contains world champions Germany. That's a statement of intent.

Monday's win was another to put in the history books.

While not the most exciting success, it was just as important as all the others.

After Jonny Evans and Chris Brunt put them two ahead, Northern Ireland were happy to sit back and absorb heaps of Czech pressure, but kept their shape so well that Michael McGovern was rarely tested in goal.

It didn't need to be beautiful football. On a nervy night at Windsor Park, they got the job done, like the best sides do.

Such success banishes thoughts of all those years where Northern Ireland would labour to last place finishes in qualifying groups, propelled along by the occasional scalp of a high ranked nation.

A major tournament and now a more than likely World Cup play-off spot later, Charlton striker Magennis believes that other nations should no longer think of them as overachievers.

"Maybe it's past the stage where it's a shock now," the Bangor man stated.

"I think Northern Ireland football is a stronghold, especially in world football.

"We've done it on the European stage and now we're doing it on the world stage and people have to take account that we're a force."

The big question coming into this campaign was whether this team could keep that momentum from Euro 2016 alive or if they would prove to be one-hit wonders.

But any thoughts of a slump were permanently put to rest with a point in Prague to open the group followed by this incredible run of results.

The reason for that continued success, according to Magennis, is the unrelenting desire from the squad to give their all every game.

"The minimum you give is 100%, you either wait til you blow up and get injured or you're replaced, and that's the minimum the squad requires," the 27-year old said.

"We know we can go a long way from that foundation, and with the hard work eventually something will happen and something will fall and two of those chances did (against the Czech Republic).

"We'll take that and move on, as I said it wasn't the prettiest but it doesn't matter how we get there."

The win on Monday night means the first part of the ultimate goal has been achieved - securing second place.

Now phase two begins - wrapping up a play-off berth.

While it's unlikely they will miss out on one of those spots, mathematically there is still the possibility that they could be that unfortunate ninth team.

Making sure they're not is what will drive the team on to two more big results to conclude the campaign, insists Magennis.

"This was the minimum that we wanted, to secure second place," the striker acknowledged. "But the next two games are going to be unbelievably hard, we know playing against Germany and Norway will be no easy feat, but this is where the hard work starts because we didn't put all the hard work in in the previous games to secure second place to end up falling short and being the team that misses out.

"There's no complacency, we've come too far to think we're anything we're not.

"We know what we're good at, we stick to what we're good at and we continue to beat teams."

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