N Ireland goalie a standout

November 09, 2017
Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, left, shakes hands with Northern Ireland goalkeeper Michael Mcgovern at the end of their Euro 2016 Group C match at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris, France.

GENEVA (AP):

When you have the World Cup, who needs the English second division? Northern Ireland goalkeeper Michael McGovern will represent his country's national team today in a play-off game against Switzerland in Belfast his fifth World Cup qualifying game this season.

That is five more league games than he has played this season for Norwich, his team in England.

The only competitive club action McGovern had was a game in August in England's second-string cup competition. It was against a third-tier team.

 

BEST RECORDS

 

That preparation doesn't seem ideal to help Northern Ireland return to the World Cup for the first time since going to Mexico in 1986, weeks before McGovern's second birthday.

Yet McGovern's seven shutouts in 10 qualifying group games conceding only in two losses to Germany, and an own-goal in the last match against Norway is among the world's best records on the road to Russia.

He is in the good company of goalkeepers for a World Cup-bound country, who are stuck on the bench in English leagues. Argentina's Sergio Romero cannot dislodge David de Gea at Manchester United. David Ospina is first choice for Colombia but behind Petr Cech at Arsenal.

Still, goalkeepers are different, and newly appointed FIFA coaching specialist Pascal Zuberbuehler said McGovern's situation is not a problem.

"He is disciplined, he is professional. At the moment, he handles it fantastically," said Zuberbuehler, who kept goal for Switzerland 51 times.

The key to McGovern having consistent top-level success is setting high standards in training.

"You need to train hard for yourself, even if you have Cech or De Gea next to you," Zuberbuehler said. "And the head coach gives him the confidence that he is No. 1."

 

BUILT TRUST

 

Northern Ireland coach Michael O'Neill built trust in McGovern on the team's run to the knockout round at the 2016 European Championship, after starting as the fifth-seed team in their qualifying group.

At Euro 2016, McGovern's saves in a 1-0 loss to Germany in Paris ensured his team advanced from their group. A three-goal defeat could have sent them home.

"The players gave him a round of applause when he came in the dressing room and, when that happens, you don't really need the manager to say any more," O'Neill said that day at Parc des Princes.

Other Sports Stories