Given international football's reputation, Nigel Worthington was asked about the concept of caginess yesterday. "The word cagey doesn't come into this," was Worthington's hard and fast reply. "This will be about two teams going all out for it. I know we will be."
Thus Northern Ireland's still vital, even at this stage, qualifier against Denmark at Windsor Park tonight was set up.
When the draw was made and the Irish came out of pot six in a group already containing Spain, Sweden and then Denmark, few could foresee Northern Ireland continuing to have points and prizes to play for come November 2007.
But this is how it sits: beat Denmark tonight and Spain on Wednesday and, depending on Sweden, the Irish could be the most unlikely qualifiers for next summer's finals. A battling 0-0 draw in Copenhagen last October gives Worthington's side hope at a venue where Spain and Sweden have succumbed.
Should the Irish triumph, all ears will then switch to Madrid, where a draw between Spain and Sweden would tee up next Wednesday in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, as an all-or-nothing contest between Spain and Northern Ireland.
But even a victory for either side in Madrid would still leave open the possibility of Irish qualification – if they beat Denmark. The other side of the coin is that Denmark, too, have a slim chance of qualifying.
"Are we nervous?" Worthington asked. "No. It's a great game to be involved in, we're delighted to be in such a position and we hope – once the Denmark game is done and dusted, and I emphasise that – we can move on and look forward to the Spain game."
After consecutive losses in Latvia and Iceland, Worthington's squad rediscovered some form and momentum in Sweden last month, where Kyle Lafferty scored a late equaliser.
Lafferty is suspended this evening but Healy will play. The top scorer in qualification with 12 goals, Healy knows another goal would take him past Davor Suker's all-time qualification record. Not that Healy wanted to discuss it. "David has respect for the opposition," Worthington said, "but, at the same time, he hasn't." It was a neat description of an arch-poacher.
Again, Healy is likely to need to be at his sharpest. Denmark have conceded only one goal away from home, one reason why Worthington said Denmark are as good as England, Spain and Sweden. They have all been beaten here on hostile nights recently and the evening kick-off is raising expectation. "All nights at Windsor Park are great occasions," Worthington said. "The potential of wind and rain adds to it."Reuse content