Football/Soccer

Northern Ireland and Corry Evans happy to have gone up in the world

Northern Ireland's Corry Evans celebrating his goal against Austria in the Uefa Nations League.

A DECADE on from making his Northern Ireland debut in a 3-0 defeat against Italy Corry Evans is setting his sights towards looking down on both Germany and the Netherlands.

Two more wins against Estonia and Belarus, albeit away from home tomorrow evening and next Tuesday, will ensure that pole position ahead of autumn meetings against Group C’s big guns.

A makeshift Northern Ireland side lost 3-0 in Pisa in 2009 to a young Italy team which included only two players who started their 2006 World Cup Final win – Fabio Grosso and Gennaro Gattuso – and Evans remembered the latter well:

“It was a hot night and it was a great experience to go up against the players of the calibre of Italy. I remember chasing Gattuso around for 70-odd minutes that night and it really was good on my debut to play against the Italians.

“I didn't realise it was 10 years ago – it really has flown by. It's a night I will never forget.

“Damian Johnson played that night, he captained the side and I think Shane Ferguson came on for me to make his debut too.”

The change in Northern Ireland’s fortunes since then has been amazing: “It's night and day since when I made my debut to where we are now.

“I think huge credit has to go to Michael [O’Neill], the way he has come in and completely transformed the team and squad.

“He has given us that belief to go and win on the international stage. Obviously getting to the Euros has given us massive confidence and belief that we can do it again.

“We nearly did it with the World Cup. We've tasted a bit of success and now we want more. We disappointed to miss out on the World Cup but we want to taste another major tournament.”

The heat is on again, literally and metaphorically, with temperatures hitting 30 degrees in Tallinn, but Evans feels the visitors are fairly well prepared after last summer’s experiences in central America:

“I think Costa Rica was probably the hottest I’ve played in. A few of the lads mentioned it as well after that game.

"It was like another level, but it's good to have those experiences in the June fixtures, coming into the qualifiers. It can hopefully benefit us for being used to that kind of heat.

“Michael has had us in doing training camps which has been proven in the past that it does help us with these June fixtures.”

The most recent training camp, in Austria, was warm too, so the visitors aim to keep firing on all cylinders and add to their earlier wins over their hosts here and in Belarus:

“The way the fixtures have fallen is kind of kind in the sense that we can target 12 points from the opening four games. That would set us up nicely for what we hope is a mini-group between ourselves, Germany and Holland.

“But we can’t look that far ahead. We still have to focus on these two games and try and get maximum points to have that chance of taking anything from Germany and Holland…

“Growing up I never experienced Northern Ireland getting to a major finals so for us to do that, I hope we can inspire younger kids that they can on and play for Northern Ireland and achieve similar success”.

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