Worthington: We could be heroes

Nigel Worthington gave a history lesson to his Northern Ireland players on the eve of the World Cup qualifier against Poland.

Last Updated: 04/09/09 at 17:37

Worthington: NI head to Chorzow

Worthington: NI head to Chorzow

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The province would go top of Group Three should they achieve a victory at Chorzow's Slaski Stadium (kick-off 7.30pm BST) and Slovakia lose to the Czech Republic.

With four successive victories in the campaign, there is a quiet confidence in the camp with South Africa the tantalising target.

Worthington has already experienced the joy that comes with playing in the finals - he was part of the Northern Ireland side that secured a place in Mexico 23 years ago.

Now he wants his team to emulate the class of 1986 and 1982, when they also mixed it with the world's best.

He said: "What happened then is great selling tool to the players and I know this group would love to emulate those sides from the past.

"Over the course of the next three games there is a magnificent stage for heroes to rise and put us on the map.

"I was very fortunate to get to '86 with a top class group of players. I have some wonderful memories from those days.

"It is a goal probably fulfilled if you are an international footballer and maybe something you dreamt about as a youngster.

"For Northern Ireland to achieve those heights in qualifying, given the size of the country, is phenomenal."

Northern Ireland arrived in Mexico on the back of a gritty 0-0 draw against England at Wembley in November 1985 thanks to an outstanding performance by goalkeeper Pat Jennings.

Worthington recalled: "We needed a point and it was backs against the wall. The oldest man in the group (Jennings) was man of the match. He made four or five magnificent saves. I can still see them yet.

"What a feeling there was after that game when you have got the point to get you to qualify for the finals. There was a great sense of achievement.

"When you have five or six months to look forward to something that is so special to the world, indeed your own country, then there is a lot of excitement.

"This is what international football is all about, playing at the top end with something real at the end of it, which is very big.

"When you are representing your country whether it is playing, captaining, managing or in other roles, there is a huge sense of pride, a good sense of satisfaction. It is one of the pinnacles of your career, no matter what else you do in football."

Current goalkeeper Maik Taylor turned 38 on Friday and Worthington praised his contribution to the cause.

"I can remember the first time I met Maik was when he put himself out to play in a game against Everton at Coleraine with a group of basically 21-year-olds," said the Northern Ireland boss.

"That speaks volumes for the man himself. On the pitch he has been an absolute star, off the pitch a magnificent professional."

Northern Ireland are looking to complete the double over Poland and Worthington added: "They are a very good side and we have very much respect for them.

"But we have been very focused on what we need to do. If we go and perform as we can, we are very capable of getting a good result."

Northern Ireland then face Slovakia at Windsor Park on Wednesday with their final qualifier taking place next month against the Czech Republic in Prague.

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