McCann: Northern Ireland have massive belief


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The Independent Football

Northern Ireland are in a familiar position this evening. Coming round the final bend of their qualification campaign, they have fought their way into a competitive position. To reach their first tournament since 1986, though, more is required, starting with a challenging game against Serbia at Windsor Park.

Two years ago it was Slovakia who came to Belfast. The visitors were top of the South Africa 2010 qualification group but Northern Ireland, who had only two games left, were just two points behind them. Nigel Worthington's men could not see it through, and Slovakia won 2-0. Northern Ireland finished in fourth place.

Now, Northern Ireland are in third place, one point ahead of the Serbs. On Tuesday they play in Estonia, before hosting the Baltic nation and travelling to Italy in October.

Grant McCann believes history is not about to repeat itself. "The difference this time is that there's a belief in the squad," said the Peterborough midfielder. "I think the last time we all said that we could do it, but maybe didn't really believe it. Now there is a massive belief in the squad. There's a massive belief that we can win on Friday and we're focused on that."

Sammy Clingan of Coventry City is similarly optimistic. "We've a really good chance to qualify this time," he said. "This is one of the biggest games that we're going to be involved in. We've four games left and I think we're in a good position."

Worthington has problems, though, as striker Kyle Lafferty and winger Pat McCourt are both doubts with calf injuries. McCourt scored two excellent goals in the 4-0 defeat of Faroe Islands last month.

Wales's fixture tonight against Montenegro at the Cardiff City Stadium does not have quite as much riding on it. With no points from their four matches so far in Group G, Gary Speed's team is playing for little more than pride.

"We owe the fans one," goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey said. "It's been tough for them and we're grateful so many have stuck by us, but now we want to show them that we can produce for them. We need a bit of luck and we haven't had much recently, but hopefully we can turn the tables because we've been doing everything right in training."

England fans will certainly be cheering the Welsh on tonight, though, with Montenegro fighting hard to pip Fabio Capello's side and win the qualifying group.

Euro hopes: How things stand in the other groups

Group A

Germany will win the group if they beat Austria tonight, leaving Belgium and Turkey to compete for the play-off spot.

Group C

Italy can secure at least a play-off spot if they win in the Faroes and either Serbia win or Slovenia fail to win.

Group D

France lead Belarus by a point with a game in hand and head to Albania tonight. Bosnia-Herzegovina, Romania and Albania are also in contention.

Group E

The Netherlands are three points clear of Sweden, while Hungary also retain hope of a play-off position.

Group F

Greece are a point ahead of Croatia and Israel, and travel to the latter tonight.

Group H

Portugal, Norway and Denmark are locked together on 10 points at the top.

Group I

Czech Republic can cut Spain's lead to three points if they beat Scotland tomorrow.