Northern Ireland hot-shot Lafferty fit after Euro 2016 scare

Saint-Georges-de-Reneins (France) (AFP) – Northern Ireland’s hot-shot striker Kyle Lafferty is fit to face Poland on Sunday at Euro 2016 having come through an injury scare in training — perhaps after some divine intervention.

The 28-year-old Norwich City forward went down clutching his groin in training on Tuesday, but took part in training on Friday and has been given the green light to face Poland in Nice.

Having scored seven goals to help Northern Ireland qualify for their first European Championship finals, the Irish are relieved their star forward can play in their Group C opener.

Northern Irish fans have been keeping their fingers crossed that their star would be fit with the hashtag ‘#PrayforKyle’ doing the rounds on social media site Twitter. 

Defender Gareth McAuley confirmed the fitness of Lafferty, who tentatively tested the groin in training on Thursday, then took full part in Friday’s session at Saint-Georges-de-Reneins.

McAuley joked how the striker had sought divine intervention to help his country’s cause.

“He’s alright, I think he was like Bambi on ice the other day (in training), but he’s come through it alright. Some say he even slept in the hotel’s chapel overnight,” joked McAuley. 

“He’s in good spirits, he gave us all a bit of a scare in training, but we all knew afterwards that he wasn’t bad.

“It only looked worse on television, because he was grimacing, but that was due to the cold water they poured on his groin, not the injury,” McAuley added with a grin.

– Lethal Lewandowski –

Alongside his West Bromwich Albion team-mate Jonny Evans, the 36-year-old centre-back will need all his experience against Poland’s striker Robert Lewandowski, the top-scorer in qualifying with 13 goals. 

“I played against Poland in 2009, home and away, when Robert was only a young lad coming up, but his movement was already there,” said McAuley.

“He’s a top player and 42 goals in the Bundesliga (for Bayern Munich), with 13 in qualifying (for Poland), proves that.

“You have to do your homework to play someone like that, look at whether he takes one or two touches, but you can’t only focus on him.”

Manchester United defender Paddy McNair agreed that Poland’s attack is more than just Lewandowski.

“Lewandowski scores a lot of goals, but he’s not the only threat,” said the 21-year-old.

“They have (Rennes midfielder Kamil) Grosicki and (Ajax striker Arkadiusz) Milik, so we’ll need to keep an eye on all three.”

McAuley says the Northern Irish will embrace their status as underdogs for the tournament.

But they take confidence from their 12-match unbeaten run coming into Euro 2016, the best of any team at the finals, which includes a 3-0 win over Belarus and goalless draw with Slovakia, who beat Germany, in recent weeks.

– Harry Gregg advice –

“We’re always going to be the underdogs, that is part of what it is to play for Northern Ireland,” said McAuley.

“We have put pressure on ourselves, we’re not just here to make up the numbers, so there is a real hunger.”

With Northern Ireland having qualified for their first finals since the 1986 World Cup, expectations are growing at home.

McAuley said he will recycle advice given to him by legendary Irish and Manchester United goalkeeper Harry Gregg, who survived the 1958 Munich air crash, before kick-off in Nice.

“This is the biggest game in our careers, even for those who have played Champions League football, it’s a different level of passion when you pull on your shirt for your country,” said McAuley.

“I’ll give the youngsters the same advice I got from an Irish legend, Harry Gregg, before the Irish Cup final in 2003, which back then was the biggest game I’d played in.

“He said to me ‘just play your game and forget the occasion’.

“We need to concentrate on our game, make the right decisions and forget everything which is going on around us.”

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