Football/Soccer

Fear has gone as Northern Ireland prepare for World Cup play-offs

Northern Ireland's Josh Magennis kept his cool against Germany and Norway to avoid a second yellow card ruling him out of World Cup play-offs.

NORTHERN Ireland stars Steven Davis and Josh Magennis both admitted that fear of missing out on the World Cup play-off first leg affected the team's performance in Norway.

The visitors lost 1-0 in Oslo but had already been assured of involvement in the play-offs before kick-off, so the concern was about certain players getting suspended if they picked up their second yellow card of the campaign.

Magennis and Davis were both in that 'at risk' category and the attacker confirmed that manager Michael O'Neill had urged caution in terms of getting cautioned:

"Michael stressed we needed a full squad available for the play-offs and we managed to keep our discipline against Germany and Norway. That was vital.

"When there was a 50/50, it's not like we pulled out but there was no need to go full-blooded and put yourself at risk of another yellow.

"If you were to miss out on the play-off, it would be something that would haunt you for the rest of your life so it was important for all of us to come through unscathed.

"It's easy to get caught up in the emotions of a game. Maybe if someone has caught you in a game and you see the opportunity to have a go back - always within the laws of the game", he clarified, with a smile, "it's on your mind, but it takes good character and preparation not to leave yourself vulnerable.

"But we have everyone available and hopefully we'll have a fully fit squad for next month and we look forward to it."

Skipper Davis acknowledged: "We know we have to be at our very best every time and be right at it to get results. Maybe we were five or 10 per cent off it on Sunday.

"We wanted to end the group in style and try and give ourselves the best possible chance to be seeded.

"But it's a little bit difficult when you find out before the game and there was the booking situation as well.

"You're walking a bit of a tightrope and you don't want to do anything silly and put yourself out of contention for the next one or two games."

Magennis is now looking forward to next Tuesday's play-off draw, and hoping to get the second leg in Belfast:

"We're delighted to secure a play-off place. We would have liked to have been seeded but it will be tough whoever we get.

"It's like cup football; a home and an away leg and hopefully we can get there.

"It would be great to have the second game at Windsor. The 'GAWA' are crazy and create an intense atmosphere. If you haven't played there before it would be intimidating.

"I don't care who the opposition are, our fans are always our 12th man.

"Hopefully we can be away first and get a good result then come home and seal the deal.

"Football is crazy and nothing is ever perfect but that's the plan we need to have."

Both players insisted that the defeat would not detract from what had been achieved before in Group C, Magennis commenting:

"I think Michael summed it up in the meeting after the game; he said all our hard work was done earlier in the campaign…"

Davis agreed with that sentiment, saying: "The main thing was to try and get that play-off spot with Germany in the group.

"It was a strong group and we have managed to do that and now we have two massive games to look forward to…

"We would have bitten your hand off for that at the start of the campaign.

"It's a great opportunity and a great carrot for us over the two games, no matter who we pull in the draw.

"It's going to be difficult with two massive games in quick succession but, listen, what an occasion and what a great opportunity for us".

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Football/Soccer

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