Northern Ireland’s David Healy is determined to upset Pepe Reina tonight if the Liverpool keeper gets a rare start for Spain in the Euro 2008 qualifier in the Canaries.
Spain have already qualified for the finals, but a win for Northern Ireland could see them qualify too, something they probably never thought possible when the campaign started. And if rumours are true, the players could be in for big money if they do win: “I heard from Howard Wells the bonus is up to £1.5million – I’m just waiting for confirmation! It’s not about the bonus though – it’s about the chance to play in a major finals. You go away on holiday and watch World Cups and European Championships on television. It would be nice to be there for a change in Austria and Switzerland. That’s the aim.”
As well as beating what they hope will be a weaker Spanish side, Northern Ireland are also hoping that Sweden get beaten. After seeing Israel and Macedonia beat Russia and Croatia at the weekend to keep England’s qualifying hopes alive, Healy sees a chance: “It just shows you what can happen, and those two results give us hope. I hope Latvia can do us a favour and beat Sweden. That would be excellent.”
To get their own win Northern Ireland still have to beat a side that will see players given a chance to prove their credentials. One of those is likely to be Pepe, who says they will still be playing to win: “I cannot accept we have nothing left to play for. It is an honour to represent your country. We want to finish first in the group and we want to please our fans.”
The Reds keeper has been on good form this season, but is wary of Healy’s own international form: “As a player, Healy is in really good form and you have to respect that. He has to be rated among the top strikers I have faced, given his record. But it is not just about one man. The whole team have had a good campaign and could still qualify. We have to make sure we take care of their strengths because they are a side in form at the moment.”
Reina says that there’s also a score to settle – they were beaten in the reverse fixture in Belfast, Healy getting a hat-trick in the 3-2 win for the Northern Irish: “The result against Northern Ireland still hurts because we did not expect it. We need to beat them.”
Meanwhile Reina has rejected any ideas that he fancies a move to the Spanish capital to play for Atletico Madrid, his father’s former team, who are reportedly interested in him: “Interest from a team like Atletico makes me proud but at the moment it wouldn’t be a good idea for me to move.”