Belfast Telegraph

With Windsor rocking, Northern Ireland can shock World champions Germany: McGovern

 

By Steven Beacom

Goalkeeper Michael McGovern has become the clean sheet king but insists Northern Ireland's stunning record at the back is down to the entire team.

The modest Fermanagh man has not been beaten in 613 minutes of international football and aims to extend that run beyond the 700 mark when Germany come to Belfast for Thursday's eagerly awaited World Cup qualifier.

One of the many intriguing aspects of this week's fixture is that the last side to score against McGovern were Germany in Hannover in October last year when the World champions ran out 2-0 winners in a Group C clash.

A few months before, McGovern had the game of his life versus the Germans in the group stages of the Euro 2016 finals. The 33-year-old saved time after time as Joachim Low's men created chance after chance in Paris. It could have been a hammering. The Enniskillen native kept the score down to 1-0.

It was a priceless display, proving vital to Michael O'Neill's side as they reached the last 16 with goal difference coming into play.

While others may have felt the need to constantly view their finest hour and a half, McGovern has only ever seen clips of the match and has yet to watch the full 90 minutes.

He admits he started the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign as third choice goalkeeper. It's a fair point as highly capable duo Roy Carroll and Alan Mannus were ahead of him.

McGovern, however, ended the tournament as a national hero having performed admirably throughout Northern Ireland's stay in France, making important stops against Poland, Ukraine and Wales as well as the Germans.

The Norwich star is keen for more big time football and wants to spend the summer in Russia next year. With the play-offs looming next month, he is a steadying influence to have around the camp.

Not one to boast about his own accomplishments, McGovern is one of many genuine souls in the Northern Ireland squad. Sadly he and his family suffered heartbreak earlier this year when his brave mum Carmel lost her battle with cancer.

No one would be prouder than Carmel of what McGovern has achieved.

"It's incredible the way our momentum has continued since the Euros. The experience at the Euros was amazing for everyone and it gave all the players a real hunger to try and qualify for another tournament," said McGovern.

"To be in with a chance of going to the World Cup is fantastic. We appreciate there is work to be done but we have given ourselves a chance."

In eight Group C matches so far, Northern Ireland have kept seven clean sheets, securing second spot in the table.

"Defensively we've been really, really solid and it's just gone exactly to plan," said McGovern. "It's credit to the way we play, the shape of the team, the way Michael sets us up and the players as well.

"We are so hard to play against and there are games I'm not getting a lot to do.

"It's great because it gives us a real foundation in games and I don't take much credit for it to be honest. I think the boys in front of me should take massive credit.

"I thought the shape of the team against the Czechs when we beat them 2-0 last month was excellent and everyone worked their socks off. You can only get clean sheets with that kind of work ethic, if everyone tracks runners and so on.

"With the shape we have and the work ethic we show, we are a hard team to score against. San Marino or Germany - the World champions - we'll just keep doing what we've been doing because it is working.

"We just want to keep the momentum going and the Germany game is next up and we want to try and get a result."

The question is, can Northern Ireland shock the World champions?

McGovern said: "We've played them twice recently and this will be the third time we've faced them in 16 months so we know how hard it'll be.

"But it's football - you see some of the surprising results already in the qualifiers and we know we are more than capable of getting results, particularly at Windsor Park.

"They are World champions but we will have our fans with us and the stadium will be rocking. I think we'll give them a game. I'm confident we can get a result against Germany."

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