Rangers’ Steven Davis will lead his Northern Ireland team against the European Champions Italy, tonight.
Windsor Park will provide the backdrop for the final qualifier in Group C as Roberto Mancini’s side aim to secure an automatic berth for Qatar next year – their nearest challengers are Switzerland with both sides level on 15 points.
The Swiss end their campaign at home to Bulgaria, whilst hoping for a major upset in Belfast to help their cause.
As for Davis, he spoke last week about assessing his international furure at the end of this campaign and on the evidence of Friday night’s display against Lithuania, the tank is far from empty given how energetic and industrious he was.
It will be a decision for the mind as well as the body for the Rangers man, who is likely to have a major decision ahead in terms of his club future, as well.
The Belfast Telepgraph reported today on further noise around the future of the NI skipper, to which he responded:
“I’ve been asked about it quite regularly over the last few months. I don’t know whether people are trying to retire me or what.”
“In all honesty, at this stage in my career I don’t think too far ahead. The honest answer is I haven’t made any decision, ” added Davis.
He is an icon for his country and will relish another opportunity to test himself against the best, earning his 132nd cap in the process.
Tonight is all about pride and a performance for Northern Ireland against the might of the Euro 2020 winners, following the Azzuri’s victory over England at Wembley in July.
It has been a mixed campaign for Ian Baraclough’s team as results have been disappointing but that comes with not being able to call upon senior players across the campaign – which in itself has been a factor in blooding young players during this series of games. The likes of Conor Bradley, Ethan Galbraith, Daniel Ballard and Dale Taylor have all gained significant experience.
There has also been a necessity to prepare for the future and to build for what comes next. With Baraclough gaining a contract extension, he will be judged on the Nations League and Euro 2024 qualifiers to follow.