Jamie Ward & Stuart Dallas happy to have something to build on in World Cup qualifying
RESULTS are all that matter in qualifying. If Northern Ireland are in the draw for the World Cup finals in Russia 18 months from now who’s going to remember Sunday night’s scoreless draw in Prague?
It wasn’t a classic by any means but the point gained could prove absolutely vital. The North defended in numbers and came home with a draw and wingers Jamie Ward and Stuart Dallas agreed that it was ‘job done’ for the North.
“We’d have accepted that at the start of the game,” said Ward.
“It was important we didn’t lose and we got off to a good start and it looks like we have done that. They came on strong in the second half but look at what we did at the start of the Euros campaign - we went to Hungary and beat them and we went to Greece and beat them. So there’s an awful lot of character in this team now and you can see that drives us through.”
Group favourites Germany beat Norway 3-0 in Oslo to take top spot while Azerbaijan won 1-0 away to San Marino and are currently second. Northern Ireland host San Marino at Windsor Park on October 8 before taking on the Germans three days later. Beating the whipping boys is essential while, realistically, getting anything out of the clash with the World Cup holders would be a massive bonus.
“It’s a good start and we’ve got to capitalise on playing the likes of San Marino and make sure we go and win those games,” said Ward.
“We know the Germany game is going to be tough - we’ve seen that before - so we have to try and beat the so-called smaller nations, they’re the main points that we try and pick up. This competition is no different to the Euros - if anything it’s a bigger stage to play on if we qualify for it.”
Like Ward on the right, Stuart Dallas didn’t see a lot of the ball on the left wing on Sunday night. He spent his time tracking back to help out full-back Shane Ferguson and making the occasional forward foray.
“We set out to win the game but we couldn’t do that,” said the Leeds United winger.
But if you can’t win then it’s important not to lose it and I thought we defended very well and come the end of the group, that point could prove crucial: “It’s a positive result for us," he added.
“Coming here was always going to be difficult and we’ve come away with something. “Now we have something to build on for next month ahead of the home game against San Marino and the Germany away.”
Dallas’ best moment came in the second half when he beat his marker and curled an inviting cross onto the head of Josh Magennis: “At this level you are not going to get five or six opportunities - you are going to just get one or two,” he said.
“It was half-an-inch away from the big man. Looking back at the game, they’ve had one or two chances. I really don’t how the big lad has missed from six yards out by putting it wide. You need a bit of luck in international football and maybe we received that tonight and if we can win the home game [against San Marino] that would set us up for Germany.
“Expectation comes from success and after what we achieved in reaching the Euros and beating Ukraine, our fans are expecting us to beat teams like the Czech Republic. We’re not resting on what we achieved at the European Championships - we’ve had that taste of success, we’re hungry and we want that to continue but this group is going to be tough.”