World Cup: England expects and the Three Lions can deliver believes ex-Norwich City chief Nigel Worthington

Former Norwich City boss Nigel Worthington played for Northern Ireland in the 1986 World Cup. Picture: Nick Potts/PA Wire. Former Norwich City boss Nigel Worthington played for Northern Ireland in the 1986 World Cup. Picture: Nick Potts/PA Wire.

Friday, June 13, 2014
11:30 AM

Nigel Worthington has bittersweet memories of the World Cup after being part of a golden era in Northern Irish football.

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Worthington featured in the 1986 Mexico finals four years after a knee injury robbed him of a chance to be involved in his country’s fairytale adventure in Spain, capped by Gerry Armstrong’s famous winner to stun the hosts in the group stages.

“It was obviously very disappointing,” he said. “As a very young player, that would have been a fantastic experience. But I got myself bedded into the side over the next four years and going to a World Cup was clearly the pinnacle of anyone’s career. We were a small country going into the big, wide world and going up against the really big nations in terms of populations and fantastic footballers. Just to be there was an achievement, but when you get there you want to perform and do well. Getting ready for a World Cup was like doing a pre-season at the end of the season, it was character building and as a group we worked very closely together. We were very close-knit and that prepared us for what was to come.”

The Northern Irish got off to the perfect start in Mexico when Norman Whiteside scored inside the opening 10 minutes of their first pool match against the Algerians in a 1-1 draw, but defeat to Spain left Billy Bingham’s squad needing to halt the brilliant Brazilians, who eased to a 3-0 win to signal the end of Worthington’s World Cup quest.

“It was 115F-plus for most of our games,” said the York City boss, speaking to his club’s official site. “Against Spain, the conditions were red hot and it was played out at a walking pace. I can still feel that heat now.

“For the Brazil game the stadium was huge and about 90pc of the supporters were Brazilian and there was a fantastic atmosphere with yellow and blue all over the place. The nerves were starting to tingle in the tunnel and you started to look across at the opposition to see if they were a bit nervous. I have to say we weren’t really seeing too many nerves from their side, and then we saw Socrates (the Brazilian captain) standing at the head of the queue, leaning against the wall of the tunnel with his elbow and smoking a cigarette, and I was thinking, ‘Oh, deary me, here we go’.”

Neymar could be the star of the show this time around for the hosts after his double salvo in Thursday’s 3-1 opening night win over Croatia and Worthington believes combating the conditions will again be a major factor for the fancied sides, but the Northern Irishman is upbeat about England’s chances of progress.

“The heat will be a big factor for the Europeans, but you can never rule out Germany,” he said. “They seem to have a real strong mentality that when it comes to the finals of a competition they pull tight and they just get harnessed into what they are looking to do. I think England as a national team has suffered like the other home international teams. The influx of foreign players and a lack of young talent coming though have damaged the national teams, but it’s important for British football the England team does well.

“If I was going to put my neck on the line, I would love to see them get to the final but I think in the current climate if they get to the semi that would be a real achievement.”

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