Worthington lifted by trio's determination to keep playing

The Northern Ireland manager Nigel Worthington has secured the long-term futures of three of his senior players ahead of tonight's final World Cup qualifier against the Czech Republic.

Captain Aaron Hughes, goalkeeper Maik Taylor and defender Stephen Craigan have all agreed to continue their international careers. Worthington, who is due to hold talks at the end of the campaign with the Irish Football Association about a possible new contract, said of the players: "I went to them to see what their feelings were, what they felt in themselves and to be honest I don't think I had the question fully out before the answer came back. All three would like to continue. Each of them said, 'If you want me, I'm available.'"

Hughes, who is set to win his 70th cap in Prague, wants Worthington to stay. "It would be really good for us," he said. "It is all about consistency, not just having the same players but the same staff, too."

Northern Ireland's chances of making the play-offs are all but over as Slovenia only need a point against San Marino to finally end their hopes. The home defeat by Slovakia cost the province dear but Worthington is determined to finish on a high note. He said: "We will have 2000 supporters and we owe them a performance after what happened at Windsor Park."

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