Lomas looking to live World Cup dream

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The Independent Online
Steve Lomas wants to celebrate his return to the Premiership with a World Cup double as Northern Ireland's dream of France '98 goes on the line.

The 23-year-old midfielder joined West Ham's fight for top-flight survival this week when he made a switch from Manchester City in a move that could net the First Division outfit pounds 2.5m. He completed the deal by fax from Northern Ireland's County Down training base, where Bryan Hamilton's men are preparing for the Group Nine qualifiers with Portugal and Ukraine.

Portugal, who lead the group, step out at Windsor Park today, with Northern Ireland making the trip to Kiev to face Ukraine on Wednesday. Lomas admits it is a programme that could make or break the Irish qualification bid. "We are such a young squad that I really feel that if we can be up there challenging then we will just get better and better from the experience. I don't like to set targets, but four points from these two games would make us happy.

"When Portugal beat us in Belfast in a European Championship qualifier a couple of years ago I felt we were a little bit naive. We're further down the line now and, although we had a bad start in our qualifiers, the results against Germany and Albania have given us a fighting chance."

Nigel Worthington has reached the heights of World Cup glory and plumbed the depths of despair during an international career with Northern Ireland that has spanned almost 17 years. The Stoke full-back feels the wheel of fortune has turned full circle.

Worthington, 35, first pulled on the green shirt against Wales when the likes of Pat Jennings, Gerry Armstrong, Billy Hamilton, Martin O'Neill and Norman Whiteside secured the 1-1 draw in Cardiff that made Northern Ireland winners of the last Home International Championship.

The side had forged their reputation two years earlier by clinching the province's first World Cup finals appearance in 24 years, and going on to reach the second stage of Spain in 1978. Worthington helped them take a stirring final bow when they repeated the qualifying trick four years later to go to Mexico - glory days that seemed to have passed as first Billy Bingham then Bryan Hamilton struggled to rebuild.

"Northern Ireland had some great players back then but also had to suffer defeats before they progressed into becoming the side that went to Spain and Mexico," Worthington said. "And the current players have had to go through a similar thing. It's been a barren few years for us but I think the rebuilding process is almost complete."

With Kevin Horlock suspended and Barry Hunter out injured, Worthington is ready to answer Hamilton's call.

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