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Standing up for the Faroes

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Faroe Islands goalkeeper Gunnar Nielsen makes a save from the Republic of Ireland's Jonathan Walters. Picture: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

Faroe Islands goalkeeper Gunnar Nielsen makes a save from the Republic of Ireland's Jonathan Walters. Picture: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

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IT'S ONE of the hardest jobs in football – playing in goal for the Faroe Islands.

But while former Manchester City player Gunnar Nielsen expects to be a busy man in Dublin tonight when Ireland take on his side in a World Cup qualifier, he wouldn't have it any other way.

The 26-year-old had spells in the British game with Blackburn, Motherwell, Wrexham and Tranmere and also made history by becoming the first player from his country to play in England's Premier League, when he filled in for the injured Shay Given in 2010, and these days he's earning a living in the Danish league.

But international football is very demanding for Nielsen: in his last eight appearances for the Faroes he's let in 28 goals, he was beaten six times in his last outing for the national team and has only ever had one clean sheet.

"It is a hard job at times, being the 'keeper for the Faroes national team," said Nielsen, speaking to the Herald ahead of tonight's game at Lansdowne Road. "But on the other hand it is an opportunity for me and a chance to show myself to the world. I love these games, I like testing myself to see how I can cope and I always enjoy the games for the national team. If the team are to do well, the 'keeper has to do well so that is pressure on me, but I enjoy it."

The rivals managers, while trying to prepare their teams for the World Cup game, will draw different lessons from their most recent matches – Ireland's last outing saw them outclass Georgia with a 4-0 win while the Faroes were hammered 6-0 by Austria.

"Yeah, I saw the result of Ireland's game against Georgia. We didn't spend too much time watching the game, the coach showed us clips of what we needed to see, but we are up to date on Ireland by the time we play," Nielsen explains.

"Ireland will hope for the same, a 4-0 home win so it's up to us to counter that and work against it.

"We are the underdogs, we know we will be under pressure, Ireland will bring everything to the game, as they need the points so it's going to be hard for us.

"We are always underdogs away from home so we are used to this, we will do our best and then hope that Ireland have a bad day.

"Hopefully this game will suit us more than other games in the group, Ireland play a more physical style which is more like ours.

"We lost our last game, to Austria, quite heavily so we want to get back out there and get a good result," added Nielsen, who admits that the last game against Austria was a let-down. "We are a tiny nation, only 50,000 people, so every now and again we get one of these heavy defeats, we usually do okay.

 

STRUGGLE

"We almost had Sweden at home, we were winning 1-0 with 15 minutes to go, and we beat Estonia at home – the same side that you guys played in the play-off for the Euros.

"So we do get these bad results every now and again, if the other team hit top form and we have an off-day then we can struggle, but we are looking forward to these games, against Ireland and Sweden next Tuesday."

The Faroes did prepare well for tonight's game, flying in to Dublin as early as last Tuesday and Nielsen hopes that fitness could be a factor for his side, given that their entire squad is based in the Faroes or in Scandinavia, where the club season is only at the half-way stage.

"Fitness could be an advantage for us as a lot of us are mid-season while your guys are all finished their season with the clubs. Most of our guys are early in their season so they will be sharp. When we played Austria we were only starting the season with our clubs so we weren't sharp, we will be fit and raring to go," says Nielsen.

From his time in England the 'keeper has an insight into at least one member of the Irish squad.

"Richard Dunne was at Manchester City when I was there, I was only a young player so I didn't have that much to do with him but I know what a great player he is," he says. "It's probably good for Ireland and bad for us that Richard Dunne is back. He is a top player for Ireland who has been in the Premier League for many years now.

"But when you play for the Faroes you are always playing against top players and you are always the underdogs, so I suppose it makes little difference to us if Richard plays or not. Ireland have a great squad no matter what XI they pick so tonight will be a hard game for us no matter what.

"And I know Shay Given as well, though I know he has retired from the Irish team, but Shay was a great guy. I came on for Shay for my City debut against Arsenal, when he injured his shoulder, it was a big moment for me and for the Faroes. I was the first-ever player from the Faroes to play in the Premier League," added Nielsen.

 

REBUILT

Kept out of the game for 18 months due to a knee injury, he has rebuilt his career in Denmark with Silkeborg but tonight it's back to the old job of trying to prevent players like Robbie Keane from scoring freely.

"Ireland are favourites but their style of play can suit us. In the first half of our home game against you we played well, and at stages in the game we had Ireland under pressure.

"It was 0-0 at half time and then we had the sucker-punch of Ireland scoring straight away in the second half. When they got the second goal our heads went down a bit. We always go out with a plan to defend well and counter-attack when we can, so we look forward to the game."


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