Football/Soccer

Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis ready to take on Kroos and Kimmich

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill and team captain Steven Davis during their press conference ahead of the Germany game.
Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press

Euro 2020 qualifying Group C: Northern Ireland v Germany (Windsor Park, 7.45pm)

MODESTY is always part of Steven Davis’s make-up, but there’s no doubt that his praise for two of tonight’s opponents is fully justified.

Toni Kroos is a modern midfield great while Joshua Kimmich could be as influential in that department as he was as a marauding right-back earlier in his career.

Davis has had the dubious honour of coming up against Real Madrid playmaker Kroos at Euro 2016 and during the last World Cup qualifying campaign, and agrees that the 29-year-old midfield metronome is the man who can make the German machine tick over smoothly:

“Sometimes whenever you watch players on TV you don’t really appreciate how good they are until you see them up close and personal. Obviously I’ve played against them a few times over the last few years and he’s top quality.

“You have to try and deny him time and space on the ball, which is difficult because he takes up good positions. He makes you think ‘Do I go and press or do I not go and press?’ He has obviously got the technical ability to hurt you so it’s going to be a really good test for us.

“I find it difficult sometimes to gauge players, but I’ve had the opportunities to play against some top players and he’s right up there. He’s got the medals to show for that for club and country - he’s been a big part of Germany’s success.”

Kroos has now been joined in midfield by 24-year-old Kimmich, whose running game will add to Kroos’s precise passing.

“He’s obviously a top quality player,” says Davis of the Bayern Munich man. “He’s played against us in the past in a different position.

“Michael has spoken about the changes in their squad, but you know you’re going to come up against top players playing at the top level, so it’s going to be a massive test for us, but one we should relish.

“You want to test yourself against the best and Germany are certainly one of the best.”

Yet Northern Ireland still sit top of Group C, and will remain there if they can deny Germany victory tonight, which Davis thinks is entirely possible:

“Do I believe we can go and get results against them? One hundred per cent ‘Yes’. Would we beat them if we played them regularly? ‘No’.

“We are not going to out-play Germany, or have more possession than them, but I think when we have played them over the last three times we have had moments where we could have taken advantage of them and if we had a bit more quality or made a better decision in those moments, we could have hurt them at times.

“That’s something we have got to improve on because we are going to have a lot of work to put in off the ball as well.

“We want to try to give a good account of ourselves as well. It’s all about balance in these games, and can we make the most of the moments that we get.

“It’s important that we go out and don’t have any regrets, or be too passive in the game. We want to set our stall out early in the game and make sure we have a go.

“Hopefully this will be one of those special nights at Windsor.”

Having beaten both Belarus and Estonia home away much has been done – but Davis knows there’s much more to do at this halfway stage of qualifying:

“We wanted to be in a position in these four games with all to play for. In many ways the pressure’s on Holland and Germany.

“At the start of the group we wanted to put ourselves in a position in the group where we could go into these games and really give it our all. We’ve done that and now we will try and upset the odds again”.

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