Josh Magennis says getting to Russia would top Euros achievement
NORTHERN Ireland may have made history when participating at their first ever European Championship finals last summer, but progressing to the 2018 World Cup in Russia would be even sweeter for Josh Magennis.
Twelve months on from advancing to the Euro 2016 knock-out stage in France – the country’s first major tournament in 30 years – the Northern Irish are in Azerbaijan hoping to remain on course for a second-place finish in their World Cup qualification group.
Michael O’Neill’s side took their place alongside the continent’s best last summer by becoming the first nation drawn from pot five to win a qualifying group, which they started ranked 95th in the world.
While some of the hope has been replaced by expectation this time around, the route to Russia is more daunting given only the group winners are guaranteed to advance, and Northern Ireland had the misfortune of being paired with world champions Germany.
It therefore means they will likely have to negotiate through a two-legged play-off encounter later this year if they do finish runners-up to the Germans, meaning any eventual qualification could be considered all the more rewarding.
“It would be a harder way of getting there, no doubt about that,” Magennis admitted when asked to compare the two qualification campaigns.
“Only one team qualifies automatically while last time there was the added insurance of two teams automatically qualifying.
“To get (to the World Cup) you would have to play unbelievably well in the group stages and then even better in the play-offs.
“In that sense, I wouldn’t say it would be better, but it would certainly leave a sweeter taste in your mouth that you have gone through so many games and you have still managed to get there.
“It’s going to be hard, we’re not counting our chickens, but we know we have got more than enough to get to that stage and it’s all about taking it one game at a time.”
Twelve months ago goalkeeper-turned-striker Magennis was on the periphery of the Northern Ireland XI, yet he has now become a mainstay in O’Neill’s plans as was shown when he was trusted as the lone forward in Germany last October.
A popular figure in the Northern Irish dressing room, Magennis knows he owes his international boss a great debt for his progression over the past 12 months having also secured a move to Charlton in that time.
“What Michael has done for my career – both internationally and club wise – has been great,” the 26-year-old added.
“He has given me confidence and pushed me on to levels I needed to be at. The biggest thing a manager can offer is trust in player and the only way to repay that is by giving everything you have.
“Hopefully what I’ve been able to give to the team has been enough and long may it continue.”
GROUP C MATCHDAY SIX FIXTURES
Saturday: Azerbaijan v Northern Ireland (5pm); Germany v San Marino (7.45pm); Norway v Czech Republic (7.45pm)