Northern Ireland v Slovakia: Steven Davis says ‘we want to put smiles on faces’

Steven Davis
Steven Davis going through his paces before the game against Slovakia at Windsor Park
Venue: Windsor Park, Belfast Date: Thursday 12 November Kick-off: 19:45 GMT
Coverage: Live commentary on BBC Radio Ulster, live text and match report on BBC Sport website; match highlights on BBC1 NI

Northern Ireland skipper Steven Davis says beating Slovakia to make next year’s Euros would be a major boost for the country amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Victory over Slovakia in the play-off final would see NI reach the Euro finals for a second successive time.

“It’s a difficult time for many people – hopefully we can put a smile on their face,” said the Rangers midfielder.

“It would give them something to look forward to off the back of what has been a difficult year so far.”

Northern Ireland have lost two and drawn one in their three games with Slovakia since Steve Lomas netted the winner in a 1998 friendly.

The Slovaks are also aiming to reach the Euro finals for a second time after their debut appearance in 2016.

Stefan Tarkovic is the new man in charge after Pavel Hapal was sacked just eight days after beating the Republic of Ireland on penalties to make the play-off final.

Form guide

Slovakia are without a win in five games while Northern Ireland’s recent record is not great either having lost six of their last 10 matches in all competitions.

However, the focus is on reaching the Euros and the shootout win over Bosnia-Herzegovina in last month’s play-off semi-final has galvanised the squad.

And there will 1,060 fans at Windsor Park to cheer on Ian Baraclough’s men on Thursday night.

Northern Ireland and Slovakia played out a goalless draw in their last meeting in 2016
Northern Ireland and Slovakia played out a goalless draw in their last meeting in 2016

“It’s a very positive camp, I feel there’s a real focus in the squad with a lot of energy in the last couple of days in training and it’s a game we’re looking forward to.

“It will be like a European-style game – they are a quality team with technical players. They want to get the ball on the floor and try to cause problems with overloads in certain areas.

“We just have to play to our strengths – play the way we know we can and I believe we can cause them problems – it’s very winnable.

“It’s a game we believe we can win, it’s a game we’ve been looking forward to for a long time and we’re delighted we’ll have a number of fans back in the stadium to support us.

“I think after the experience of playing in Bosnia with a couple of thousand there, it certainly changes the atmosphere and there’s a bit more energy there, so hopefully that will help us.”

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