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Northern Ireland will be in strong position if we can take four points from opening two games, claims Nicholl

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Jimmy Nicholl

Jimmy Nicholl

Jimmy Nicholl

Northern Ireland assistant manager Jimmy Nicholl has revealed that the target for the team in this month's opening World Cup qualifiers away to Italy and at home to Bulgaria will be four points.

Nicholl is relishing the opportunity to meet up with boss Ian Baraclough and the players again ahead of the early Group C encounters and while he appreciates the first two matches are tough in a section also containing Switzerland and Lithuania, he has been buoyed by the outstanding club form of influential figures like Steven Davis, Jonny Evans and Stuart Dallas this season.

Following last year's crushing Euro 2020 Play-Off Final defeat to Slovakia at Windsor Park, Baraclough's men have a big and busy year in front of them. The game in Parma on March 25 kicks off 2021 before the Bulgarians are in Belfast on March 31, with a home friendly against USA in between. There will also be friendlies in Turkey (May 31) and Ukraine (June 3) prior to the World Cup resuming in September with the campaign finishing in November.

Former Manchester United and Rangers ace Nicholl, who played in the 1982 and 1986 World Cups and won 73 Northern Ireland caps, told Sunday Life Sport: "I am really looking forward to seeing all the boys again. It is the beginning of a campaign and I'm sure Ian, the staff and the players will be thinking, 'Let's see if we can get off to a good start'.

"It's a difficult first match against Italy away but if we can start with four points by getting something out of the Italian game and versus Bulgaria at home we would be very happy. It is a long time until the next qualifier after that so to get four points and then get all the boys together and enjoy our wee tour to Turkey and Ukraine, that would be great going into the group matches in September.

"I'm on a high from Rangers winning the title and I'll still be on a high when we meet up with Northern Ireland."

Nicholl has been keeping a close eye on all the internationals and has been taken with the Premier League performances of Leicester's Evans and Dallas of Leeds.

"Those lads have been outstanding. Hopefully Jonny is going to be alright because he is a really important player for us," said Nicholl. "I love watching Leeds and love the fact that Stuarty Dallas is such a big part of what they do. Sometimes you are at a big club and you are a bit-part but he stands out.

"Most of our players are getting minutes under their belt and it is great to see Corry Evans back from injury."

Earlier this week, Nicholl insisted that Northern Ireland skipper, record caps holder and Rangers title winner Davis, now 36, could play until he is 40. He added: "Steven will never turn his back on Northern Ireland and Northern Ireland I'm sure will never turn its back on Steven and say, 'You are too old'. He has over 120 caps and I always remember when things weren't going well for Michael O'Neill at the start Steven was always there. He wasn't there just to try and beat big Pat's caps record, he was there for his love of football and love for Northern Ireland."

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