Josh Magennis insisted Northern Ireland can pip either Holland or Germany to qualification for Euro 2020 after his late winner put them top of Group C on Sunday night.
Magennis struck with three minutes left to snatch a 2-1 win over Belarus at Windsor Park and make it six points out of six for Michael O’Neill’s side.
The goal was arguably the best move of the game, with Magennis instrumental as he controlled Craig Cathcart’s long ball and laid it off to Stuart Dallas before sweeping home Paddy McNair’s cross.
“It was brilliant and the place erupted as usual,” Magennis said. “With the magnitude of the game it had been frustrating. They were sitting in deep and making it hard for us to create chances.
“Thankfully Paddy laid it on a plate for me and I thought, ‘Don’t miss’ and thank God it managed to go in past the keeper.”
With the next games not until June, when they face Estonia and Belarus away, Northern Ireland can enjoy a three-point cushion over the Dutch, who have won one and lost one, and Germany, who beat Holland 3-2 in their only qualifier so far.
“It’s a cliche and cheesy but the main thing was the three points and we want 12 points out of the first four games and then we can head towards September, October and November,” he added. “We have started off well and now we have to look forward to June.”
When the draw paired Northern Ireland with Holland and Germany few gave them a chance of securing a top-two finish, but Magennis said there is plenty of belief within the group.
The fixture list means they will not face either the Dutch or Germans until their last four games in the autumn, by which time they hope to have plenty of points in the bag.
“It massive and we want to stay there and we truly believe we can do it,” he said. “There is no point me standing here if I didn’t think we could go through. I might as well not show up.
“It’s going to be tough and maybe tougher than we expected and maybe we will have to dig deep. I also say, ‘Why not us?’ The boys know each other inside out and we just have to play to the best of our ability.”
O’Neill has changed Northern Ireland’s approach over the past six months, looking to play a more possession-based style rather than relying on counter-attacks, and it is a change Magennis is enjoying.
“I think what Michael’s trying to do, the ethos he is trying to progress in the team and what we are trying to achieve and do before the games is coming to fruition,” he said.
“We are trying to develop and we are no longer a one-dimensional team as people said before.
“We are trying to break teams down and at times it is not pretty but we have come off the pitch knowing we have won.”