Jamie Ward’s goal – his fourth for Northern Ireland – came after 87 seconds at Windsor Park

Northern Ireland’s exploits at Euro 2016 have given them confidence in their bid to reach their first World Cup since 1986, says Jamie Ward.

The Nottingham Forest forward scored in the second minute of Sunday’s which keeps them in contention for Russia 2018.

Michael O’Neill’s men are second in Group C with 10 points from five games.

“We have been in this position with the Euros and have the experience of pressurised games,” said Ward, 30.

“We are extremely confident going into every game and are not worrying about what the other teams in the group do.

“We have made a good start, we have 10 points and we just have to focus like we did in the Euros.”

Northern Ireland’s target is to finish in second place behind Germany

World champions Germany have a 100% record and top the group on 15 points, and O’Neill believes victory away to Azerbaijan in June would essentially make it a two-horse race with the Czech Republic for second place.

The Czechs, two points behind Northern Ireland, still need to travel to Belfast.

Northern Ireland’s remaining 2018 World Cup qualifiers10 JuneAzerbaijan (away)1 SeptemberSan Marino (away)4 SeptemberCzech Republic (home)5 OctoberGermany (home)8 OctoberNorway (away)

O’Neill said: “We’re in a great position.

“Norway was a game that I was apprehensive about – just going up against such an experienced coach as Lars Lagerback.

“Norway came with nothing to lose, they had to win the game to keep themselves alive in the group and that made them a very dangerous opponent.

“We took care of the job and have given ourselves a substantial cushion over Norway [in fifth].

“We play Azerbaijan now and we can put the distance between us and them to six points and then it starts to look very much like ourselves, the Czech Republic and Germany.

“We have a difficult game in Baku, but we couldn’t go into it in better shape.”

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Michael O’Neill on huge games facing Northern Ireland


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