Football/Soccer

Michael McGovern says NI will stay cool in Norway

Northern Ireland keeper Michael McGovern applauds the fans after Thursday's defeat to Germany Picture by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press

HEADS could be fried trying to work out the requirements to reach the World Cup play-offs, and potential seedings, but Michael McGovern insists Northern Ireland will keep theirs cool.

The familiarly chilly weather conditions, at least in the evenings, may help in that regard and there's also a familiar feel about this last game of the group campaign.

Away to a Nordic country, with much already achieved but still needing a point to secure something. The difference this time is that Northern Ireland might still miss out on the big tournament the following summer, although that is unlikely.

In Finland for the last group game ahead of Euro 2016, qualification for France had already been secured; the simple issue to be decided in Helsinki was topping the group.

Here and now it's much more mind-boggling. Results in Group H tonight could ensure NI are one of the top eight runners-up, but goalkeeper McGovern is still anticipating the need to get something from the Norway game:

“I think so. I don't know the permutations – it's quite complicated – but we might know more in the next day or so.

“In an ideal world, you'd like to be guaranteed a play-off spot before the game. If we have to go and get a result, that's also good because we will probably need a result to be potentially seeded, so it's good to have something to play for.”

The Norwich City net-minder argued that having a play-off place assured pre-match would only increase their desire to well, rather than reducing it:

“Even if we have secured a play-off come Sunday, we want to go there and win for the seeding.”

That's an outcome he sees as eminently achievable, despite Lars Lagerback's men thrashing San Marino 8-0 on Thursday night.

“When we played Norway at home, I thought we were comfortable in the game [a 2-0 win].

“They are a good team and had a good win against San Marino, but there's no reason why we can't go and get a result. It's not as if we're playing Germany again.”

McGovern acknowledged that facing the World Cup holders for the third time in just over a year had been mentally draining, due to the levels of concentration required.

“Yeah, it's all about clearing the mind and getting the legs and body recovered and be ready to go again Sunday.”

Beaten by a scorching rocket shot from Sebastian Rudy after 80 seconds on Thursday, McGovern saved well from Sandro Wagner minutes later, then produced a superb flying finger-tip stop to deny German skipper Thomas Muller early in the second half.

The 33-year-old was relatively pleased to restrict the Germans to three goals in total, commenting: “When we went 1-0 down and then 2-0 down, my main aim then is not to get tanked because goal difference is going to be massive.

“They beat Norway, who are a good side, 6-0, so that was important that we keep strong in the head and to not concede any more goals was important.”

The absence of bookings on Thursday night was also a boost, especially with a Dutch referee with a reputation for handing out cards: “It was great that we had no yellow cards, I think the referee in the last game gave a lot of yellow cards, so that was really good. We are looking forward to Sunday night now.”

Even with those players perhaps in that tricky disciplinary situation, the Fermanagh man is confident about his colleagues: “I think everyone will keep a cool head, although at times in football you get booked for small things, especially in international football.

“The rule is very harsh, but it's the rule and we can't complain about it. I think the bookings carry on into the play-offs, so it is incredibly harsh, but it was good we didn't pick up any cards against Germany.”

McGovern tends to look for positives, and suggests that good could even come from enforced changes.

He knows that from personal experience, having taken over from the injured Roy Carroll during the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign and made himself the established number one number one.

“We have such a small squad, we can't afford to lose too many players, but it gives other boys a chance to step up.

“I was in that position before when Roy got injured. That gave me a chance, so we'll wait and see what it happens.”

Another who has benefitted was the goalscorer against Germany, Josh Magennis, who only started at home to Greece in 2015 – two years ago tomorrow night – because leading scorer Kyle Lafferty was suspended, as McGovern recalls:

“It was the Greece game, the night we qualified for the Euros. Kyle was suspended and he was massive for us in that campaign.

“It just shows what can happen, he scored then and just look at Josh now and what he's doing.

“Let's hope nobody gets suspended, but if anyone does, it's an opportunity for others to come in.”

As for the opportunity to reach the play-offs, McGovern concluded: “If you'd told us at the start of the campaign we'd be in this position now, we would have snapped your hand off.” Even at the risk of a booking.

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