Belfast Telegraph

World Cup 2018: Conor McLaughlin relishing opportunity to take on Germany

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland star Conor McLaughlin believes there will be 18,000 reasons why the team will be inspired when World Champions Germany come to Windsor Park in 2017.

Like many of his international team-mates, the Fleetwood Town full-back was eagerly waiting to find out who Northern Ireland would be drawn with on Saturday for the 2018 World Cup qualifiers...and when all was done and dusted he was not disappointed.

McLaughlin, sensational during the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign to date, was delighted to see Northern Ireland in Group C alongside the Germans with the Czech Republic, Norway, Azerbaijan and San Marino also in the same section.

"It was great to land Germany," said the 24-year-old, now established as a key figure for Northern Ireland.

"As the draw was progressing and we came out I looked at the other teams in the group and thought it was a decent group for us and then we got Germany which was fantastic.

"You always want to test yourself against the best and Germany are that at the moment being World Champions.

"Hopefully if I'm still playing well I will be selected for the games against Germany because they will be unbelievable experiences."

Northern Ireland travel to Germany in October next year. It will be another 12 months - on October 5, 2017 - before Joachim Low's side are in Belfast.

By then, of course, Windsor, complete with a new Kop stand, will be up to a capacity of 18,000. Indeed in last week's Belfast Telegraph, IFA President Jim Shaw revealed he hoped all the construction work would be done by the start of the World Cup qualifiers in September 2016.

McLaughlin can't wait and feels that extra support will be a major boost for the home players when Germany arrive.

"Having an 18,000 crowd in the ground will be a big help for us when we play Germany," said the defender.

"Obviously we have played the European Championship campaign with stands missing at Windsor Park. The atmosphere created by the fans in the games has still been fantastic, but having thousands more fans roaring us on could make a big difference."

On the other opponents in Group C, McLaughlin said: "I think they are beatable. Obviously the Czech Republic and Norway are good football nations and have done well in tournaments in the past but we can go into those games with belief. Regarding Azerbaijan and San Marino we would have to win points when we play them to give ourselves a chance of qualification."

McLaughlin hopes that manager Michael O'Neill will still be in charge then, welcoming the fact that on the eve of the draw O'Neill told this newspaper that he is open to remaining as boss for the World Cup campaign.

"I would definitely be in favour of Michael staying," said the Belfast man.

"He has done a great job with the team. Everyone can see that with our results in the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign so far and personally he has been very good for me. I'm hoping he will still be manager when the World Cup games start."

Belfast Telegraph


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