Northern Ireland's Steven Davis aiming to finish 2016 on a high against Croatia

Northern Ireland captain Steve Davis during a press conference at Windsor Park on Monday
Picture by PA 

TRAVEL is supposed to broaden the mind but Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis said that it remains “beyond any of our imaginations how far we’ve come as a group in such a short space of time”.

Participating in a first international tournament for 30 years will always make 2016 memorable but the Southampton midfielder is hopeful rather than confident of securing back to back qualification.

That long-ingrained mindset of hoping for progress rather than expecting it perhaps explains why he’s still cautious about the team’s chances of making a play-off for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Germany rightly remain red-hot favourites to top Group C, but Michael O’Neill’s men are in second spot after demolishing previously unbeaten Azerbaijan 4-0 last Friday night.

However, Davis insisted that they cannot count on remaining in that position, explaining: “I don't think we're favourites, we don't have the right to have that tag at this moment in time.

“There’s still a lot of football to play, a lot of teams are going to drop points. The group probably will go right down to the wire - the most important thing is we are thereabouts and give ourselves the opportunity.”

“Next year, we want more of the same. We've managed to get success, tasted it, want more. We’ve got ourselves in a decent position but there’s a lot of hard work to get ahead. We'll gain more belief, more confidence, and hopefully be in the mix for second position in the final few games.”

The immediate focus is Tuesday night’s home friendly against Croatia, of whom Davis comments: “They've obviously got quality throughout the team, players that can handle the ball in tight areas.

“Just looking back at when they beat Spain [at the Euros], it tells you the level of player they’ve got and how tough it's going to be. It's a good challenge for us. It gives Michael a chance to maybe try some new things as well, hopefully it will be a good night for us.

“We're enjoying the moment, have got one game remaining, it would be nice to finish the year off well. It’s a good chance against a top side to see how far we've come.”

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