Sufficiently relaxed to give his squad a day's rest in Gran Canaria yesterday, even though it is a do-or-die game with Spain tomorrow and he has a problem at left-back, the Northern Ireland manager, Nigel Worthington, appears to be settling into his role and is now expected to be offered the chance to convert his temporary status into a permanent post by the Irish Football Association.
Worthington succeeded Lawrie Sanchez midway through this campaign and, although the salary on offer is likely to be less than what he would get in a club job in England, Worthington is giving the impression that he would take the full-time position. It is certainly a more attractive job now than when Sanchez succeeded Sammy McIlroy with the Irish ranked 124th in the world, as third place in a treacherous group has been guaranteed already.
Worthington, who won 66 Northern Ireland caps from 1984, said that Saturday night's euphoric 2-1 victory over Denmark in Belfast, which clinched third spot, "took me back to what it was like as a player." He played against Spain in the 1986 World Cup finals in Mexico and the IFA chief executive, Howard Wells, is not slow to reveal his admiration for Worthington.
In the wake of Saturday night, Worthington spoke warmly of this overachieving squad of players and also hinted for the first time at a longer-term role. In the short term, he could have done without a suspension to Jonny Evans – the IFA received confirmation that Evans had been booked late on against Denmark – and Worthington's attempt to get West Ham's George McCartney to travel out yesterday failed as his ankle is still troublesome.
Qualification remains a possibility, although bookmakers reckon it is a 134-1 chance that Northern Ireland will beat Spain while Latvia win in Sweden.
Bristol City's whippet-fast Ivan Sproule may come in for Keith Gillespie on the right of midfield and there he will bump into Cesc Fabregas. The Arsenal player yesterday recalled Spain's 3-2 defeat at Windsor Park 14 months ago, saying: "We all want to win and, in par- ticular, because of the way we lost over there."Reuse content