Football/Soccer

Euro 2016 seems like a long time ago says Northern Ireland skipper Steven Davis

Northern Ireland's Steven Davis during training at Windsor Park yesterday

World Cup 2018 Qualifying Group C: Northern Ireland v San Marino (tonight, Windsor Park, 7.45pm, live on Sky Sports 5)

By Andy Watters

ALL the giddy, feelgood mayhem of Euro 2016 seems like a long time ago for Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis.

The disappointment of the opening loss against Poland and the elation of the win over Ukraine are fading memories for the Southampton midfielder who’ll lead the North out in front of a packed house at shiny new Windsor Park tonight.

San Marino are the first international visitors and victory is essential if the North – who began their Group C campaign with a draw in Prague last month - are to have any hope of making it to the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

“To be fair the Euros seem like a long time ago,” said Davis.

“Seeing some of the footage from the videos brought back some great memories but it does seem like quite a long time ago even though it wasn’t really.

“We’ve already had the game against the Czech Republic so our focus is solely on this campaign and to try and build on what we’ve achieved so far. Now that we’ve had a taste of success it leaves you wanting more and that’s the aim.”

San Marino’s only previous visit to Belfast was for a World Cup qualifier in 2008 and Davis capped off a morale-boosting night with the fourth goal in a 4-0 victory.

Northern Ireland’s home form was excellent back then – three wins, a draw and a single defeat – and Davis knows that the same will be required in this campaign.

With a trip to Germany coming up, Davis described the forthcoming fixtures as “a bit chalk and cheese”. Whatever the North does tonight won’t affect the result in Hannover, but anything less than victory means they’ll be under pressure to produce something spectacular on the road.

“Our focus is on Windsor first and foremost,” said the Southampton midfielder.

“The stadium is looking brilliant and there’ll be a good atmosphere as always.

“We’re looking forward to getting back out there. These teams can be difficult if you make them difficult, but it’s important that we get the three points and we need a performance. That’s all we’re focussed on at the minute.

“If we want to do anything in the group we have to make Windsor a fortress.

“We’ve got consistent results here and tomorrow night gives us an opportunity to get up and running. We got a decent point away in Prague and that gives us something to build upon if we manage to win the game and put on a good performance tomorrow night then we can go out to Germany with a lot of confidence and a lot of hope.

“If we put in a performance, who know, maybe we can take something out of the game.”

The North have trained to go out and attack San Marino. Pressure will tell on Pierangelo Manzaroli’s collection of part-timers, but patience will be important too.

“We’re going to have more possession than we’ll have against Germany no doubt and we want to get into the right areas and try and cause them problems,” said Davis.

“Training has been aimed towards us getting three points tomorrow night and attacking play.

“Last time we played them here we had a good result and a good performance so more of the same would be nice but we’ve found some of these teams difficult over the years when I’ve been involved.

“So I think if we go out with the right approach and the right mentality and a similar desire to what we’ve shown in the last three or four months then I’m confident we’ll get the result.

“I’m just looking to the game and it’s great to be back here at Windsor – new stadium and there’s still a buzz with the fans from the Euros so everything’s looking good for tomorrow night. We just need to put in the performance that we’re capable of.”

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