Tuesday 12 December 2017

Jonny Evans believes teams will fear drawing Northern Ireland in World Cup play-offs

Jonny Evans of Northern Ireland in action during the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier between Northern Ireland and Germany at Windsor Park on October 5, 2017 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images)
Jonny Evans of Northern Ireland in action during the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier between Northern Ireland and Germany at Windsor Park on October 5, 2017 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images)

Jonny Evans believes European football's heavyweights have reason to fear drawing Northern Ireland in the play-offs next month.

On Sunday evening, thanks to Scotland's draw with Slovenia, Michael O'Neill's men learned they would be assured of a two-legged tie to determine whether they would make it to their first World Cup finals since 1986.

When the draw takes place on October 17, it appears likely the Northern Irish will be unseeded, meaning a nation like Portugal or Italy could stand between them and a place in Russia.

The prospect of meeting a Cristiano Ronaldo or a Gianluigi Buffon next month might be daunting for many of the Green and White Army, yet Evans has countered by saying there are reasons other nations will want to avoid O'Neill's disciplined outfit .

"We're a real hard-working team, we defend really well as a unit, we all work hard for each other and that's not nice to play against," the West Brom defender said.

"We've got a good defensive record throughout the campaign, we're disappointed conceding a goal (against Norway), it would have been nice to have the eight clean sheets.

"I think a lot of teams will fear us. Every team that plays us talks about our strength on set pieces and being hard to break down.

"I think there's a fine balance between underestimating and being fearful. I think teams will cover all aspects and will look at us and see we are good at set pieces - but they haven't been able to deal with it up until now, and that's just one aspect of our game, they can't handle us on set plays."

Northern Ireland were the best of the rest in Group C having accepted from the outset they were not going to overhaul world champions Germany for the only automatic qualifying spot.

Die Mannschaft went through qualifying with a perfect 10 wins from 10 but Evans believes his team deserve huge respect for securing their chief objective of a play-off spot.

"Michael's a realist; there's not many people can admit that and just say, 'Right, Germany are going to win the group'. That's a big statement to make," Evans added.

"I actually can remember the picture he put on the screen with Germany and said, 'Right, cut them off at the top, we're going to win this sort of mini-league below them'.

"We've managed to do that and it's always satisfying whenever you're able to hit those targets.

"We have to give ourselves a lot of credit and I think a lot of other people have to give us a lot of credit. It's an amazing achievement when you see where all of the lads are playing - some are playing League One, some are Championship, some Premier League.

"It's a real mixture that has come together and managed to achieve something great."

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