Belfast Telegraph

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Gareth McAuley: Beating Republic at Windsor Park to qualify would be perfect revenge

Will the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland meet again in the Euro 2020 play-offs? (Lorraine O’Sullivan/PA)
Will the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland meet again in the Euro 2020 play-offs? (Lorraine O’Sullivan/PA)
Gareth McAuley

By Gareth McAuley

Northern Ireland Ireland have a huge opportunity for revenge.

A chance to right a wrong.

It would be the perfect retort to smug UEFA and the Republic of Ireland by qualifying for the Euro finals at their expense.

It still grates on the me that Northern Ireland were thrown into a Euro qualifying group with Germany and the Netherlands when it was the Republic, who were initially drawn out with those footballing giants. But because they have a little bit extra money and a better stadium, with UEFA selecting the Aviva Stadium as one of the hosts for the finals next year, they managed to dodge a bullet. Totally unfair.

The Republic were then drawn with Switzerland and Denmark as their top seeds and having played against the Swiss in the 2018 World Cup play-offs and kept a close eye on the Danes, the way Michael O'Neill had us playing during this qualifying campaign, I believe we would have done very well in the Republic's group and probably qualified automatically for the finals.

Now there is the prospect of Northern Ireland and the Republic meeting at Windsor Park on March 31 - the first time in over 20 years a competitive fixture has taken place between the sides.

Obviously there are fears it could be volatile, but I honestly believe the majority of our fans will be too busy supporting our players and focussed on the game to worry about degrading the opposition.

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Anyway, our fans have enough brilliant songs in their repertoire that they don't need to reduce themselves to singing sectarian nonsense, which will only overshadow the entire spectacle.

However, with all the drama, excitement and rivalry with the Republic, who have a tough game away to Slovakia, it's easy to get ahead of ourselves.

For me, former Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko and Juventus midfielder Miralem Pjanic are Bosnia's team. That's it.

Josh Magennis
Josh Magennis

I'm not being disrespectful to the rest of their side because they have some good players, but if you want to beat Bosnia, then you stop Dzeko and Pjanic from playing.

I didn't play in Nations League games against Bosnia when we lost twice, but I watched them intently and I felt we controlled the matches but simply were not clinical and therefore didn't take the numerous chances presented to us. That has changed over the last 10 months, evident in the Euro qualifying series.

One major positive is that we have been to Bosnia recently, so it is not a new environment for us. The players will go there will no fear. This game on March 26 is not about fancy football or winning the tactical battle - all that matters is that Northern Ireland get through to the final.

We honestly need to forget about any match with the Republic, play the match against Bosnia as though it is the only game that matters.

When we played Switzerland in the first leg of the World Cup 2018 play-off, the ball goes up and it was maybe a 60/40 for their keeper against our striker or at best a 50/50.

But our striker Josh Magennis didn't go for it. He hung back and didn't challenge.

I lost my s***. I was absolutely fuming. I screamed at him and asked Josh what he was playing at. The ball could have gone in our favour by Josh challenging the keeper - he may have won the ball or the keeper might have made a mistake.

He shouted over to me that he was concerned that if the ref felt he fouled the keeper, he could have picked up a yellow card, which would have ruled him out of the second leg in Basel.

That only made me even more furious. You play in the moment, the here and now.

A few days later in Switzerland Michael announces his team for the second leg and Josh isn't in the starting XI, so he didn't make it anyway, despite worrying about a yellow card at Windsor.

From then on, I told him you give your all for the team at that particular moment and put any personal ambitions to one side.

Just look at Roy Keane in Manchester United's 1999 Champions League semi-final against Juventus. He knew a booking would cost him a place in the final - did he care? Not one bit. He gave his usual no-nonsense, tough tackling and abrasive display, picked up a caution for his troubles but helped United progress to the final.

There is no second chance against Bosnia, so it really is, whatever it takes.

I told Josh I would never speak to him again following that game with the Swiss as he cost me a place in the World Cup.

Josh now also has a chance for redemption and a chance to take me to the Euros as a fan.

Belfast Telegraph


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