Football/Soccer

Winning in Italy would cap record for Northern Ireland and Davis

Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis.

EQUALLING a major caps record is pretty impressive; ending Italy's home record would be even more incredible for Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis.

The 36-year-old should match former England goalkeeper Peter Shilton's UK-high tally of 125 caps in Parma tonight - but an away victory in Italy would be unprecedented in World Cup qualifiers.

The Italians have won 46 and drawn nine of their previous 55 such matches so Davis acknowledges: "It is a huge test for us with the record they have at home in qualifiers but we will go there and embrace it and that record has to come to an end at some point…

"I don't think anyone outside the camp will be giving us a chance to take anything from the game. The pressure and expectation will come from ourselves because you go into every game no matter who you are playing against expecting to get something from it."

Even a point would represent a fine start towards reaching Qatar 2022 and with a home qualifier against Bulgaria next Wednesday, the NI squad are setting their sights on a solid start, says Davis:

"It's huge because it sets the tone for the rest of the campaign and gives you a platform to build from. You couldn't get a more difficult game to start with than Italy away and we are realistic to know how hard it will be to get a really positive result but we will do our best to do that.

"It's important over the course of these first two games that we get some points on the board. We know from having success in the past that gives that real foundation to go and build on from there."

Having missed out on the last World Cup in controversial circumstances, losing a two-legged play-off to Switzerland to a dubious penalty, Davis would love to reach the global tournament.

That would end a wait for Northern Ireland going back to Mexico '86, when Davis was only a toddler, and he admits that would cap even reaching the Euros, as NI did in 2016:

"I couldn't put it into words what it would mean to me to play on the World Cup stage and that goes for everybody in the camp. To play in a major tournament whether it is the Euros or the World Cup is massive for a country of our size.

"Getting to the World Cup would be the pinnacle. That's what you grow up watching and dreaming of playing in but we also know how difficult it will be to get there."

Typically, Davis puts thoughts of that caps record aside until after the match, although he acknowledges the pride he feels about reaching such an elevated place:

"It's quite incredible to be in that position where I have that number of caps. It won't be something I will be thinking about going into the game. It's a by-product of the match because the most important thing is to try and get off to a positive start in the campaign.

"I don't really know how to sum it up in words. Breaking the Northern Ireland record was huge for me on a personal level but to be able to get the British one, that is something I will look back on with great pride especially when I finish my career."

For now, though, he plays on, both with new Scottish champions Rangers and Northern Ireland, and he's relishing taking on the Italians:

"I'm feeling good and have been enjoying my football at Rangers. The team has been playing well and I want to continue playing as well as I can…

"The mood is good. Everybody enjoys spending time together and everyone enjoys being back together. It feels like a long time ago since we were together so everyone is excited because we have a lot of lads performing well at club level and hopefully we can take that into the international scene, face Italy and give a good account of ourselves, and try to get off to a strong start."

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Football/Soccer