Steven Davis backs youth to shine in friendly with New Zealand
NORTHERN Ireland captain Steven Davis has said tonight’s friendly with New Zealand is the perfect preparation for next week’s World Cup qualifier in Azerbaijan.
The All Whites currently sit 95th in Fifa’s world rankings ahead of their participation in this summer’s Confederations Cup in Russia, but Davis is taking nothing for granted ahead of tonight’s Windsor Park showdown.
“We don’t get the opportunity to come back here too often and play. There’s going to be a good crowd at Windsor Park, so we want to put on a good performance first and foremost for them, and carry the momentum into the game against Azerbaijan,” said the Southampton midfielder.
“You want to make the most of these opportunities, we don’t get too many days together throughout the year and the players will be desperate to impress the manager.”
Although the New Zealand squad is among the least heralded in world football, there is one player Davis is somewhat wary of. Leeds striker Chris Wood is the All Whites’ vice-captain and had a prolific campaign in the Championship this season. The former Leicester City and West Brom frontman hit 27 goals in 44 Championship appearances this season, and Davis has his eye on him.
“We don’t know too much about the individuals, obviously Chris Wood is the name that sticks out though,” Davis added.
“He’d a really strong season in the Championship, so he’s going to be a threat. We’ve watched some footage of them already and they haven’t conceded too many goals in the games they’ve played, so it’s going to be another difficult game for us.
“They’re preparing for the Confederations Cup, so they’ll be looking to take something out of it as well. It gives Michael [O’Neill] another opportunity to have a look at some different options.”
O’Neill is expected to use his squad to its full extent over the next two games and Davis has no doubts the younger players will be able to handle the pressure that comes with international football.
“To be fair, I think they’ve all settled in really well,” Davis said in reference to players like Shay McCartan and Tom Flanagan, who will be attempting to make their mark for the future.
“It’s a very welcoming group, everybody gets on really well, so it’s a relatively easy group to come into. I’m sure there’ll be some nerves with any of the lads who will be getting their opportunity tomorrow night, but it’s a great opportunity for them and they’ll be determined to give their best and try to get themselves in regular squads.
“Shay McCartan looks like a lively little player. I haven’t seen too much of him, but the thing you want is for players to go out and do what they’re doing a club level and go out and express themselves on the pitch.
“From what I’ve seen of the lads, they’ve certainly done that.”