Northern Ireland's UEFA EURO 2008™ fate may be out of their hands – but the players still believe they can do their bit by beating Spain on Wednesday to achieve qualification.
The hosts are assured of a place at next summer's tournament, while their visitors need to win in Gran Canaria and also hope that Latvia defeat Sweden in Stockholm. It is an unlikely combination of results, but Northern Ireland winger Ivan Sproule insists "there is hope". He said: "Funnier things have happened in football, so you never know what way it will go. We also have the 12th man with the fans coming to watch us, and the proof is in the number of supporters coming out to Spain."
Another wide midfielder, Chris Brunt, echoes those thoughts, declaring: "Hopefully Latvia can do us a favour against Sweden. Latvia turned us over in Riga, and Iceland turned us over in Belfast, so I don't see why Latvia can't beat Sweden. We are capable of beating Spain so hopefully Wednesday will be a special night." Centre-half Stephen Craigan added: "I think we realise we've got a massive hurdle in front of us. We will probably try and set little targets and hopefully stay in the game as long as we can, not fall back early and try to nick a goal. We have to be disciplined and organised, and the manager will make sure of that."
The boss, Nigel Worthington, seems likely to be offered an extended contract whatever happens in the Canary Islands. Irish Football Association chief executive, Howard Wells, said: "Do I think he can do the job on a permanent basis? Without a doubt. I believe every international manager needs at least two tournaments to prove they can do it. To take over in the middle of a campaign is difficult, but I was under no doubt when I met Nigel that he was the man to do it. If the fans had known that, with one game to go, we'd still be in contention, they, like us, would have been delighted."
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