Euro 2016: Northern Ireland can handle Poland's Lewandowski, says McAuley

Northern Ireland haven't conceded a goal in the last three games with West Brom team-mates Gareth McAuley and Jonny Evans at the heart of the defence
Northern Ireland haven't conceded a goal in the last three games with West Brom team-mates Gareth McAuley and Jonny Evans at the heart of the defence

Northern Ireland player Gareth McAuley says Michael O'Neill's Euro 2016 outsiders are ready to take on Europe's top striker Robert Lewandowski.

The Bayern Munich forward is seen as Poland's main threat when the sides meet in Group C in Nice on Sunday.

Defender McAuley believes most people expect Poland to win, despite being two places below Northern Ireland in the Fifa rankings at 27th.

The West Brom man said they are looking forward to facing the in-form Pole.

Deadly Lewandowski

"He is a top player for Poland, but they have other threats too," said 36-year-old McAuley, whose seven international goals have all come in competitive matches.

"Scoring 42 goals in the Bundesliga and 13 in the qualifying campaign for this tournament shows you what Lewandowski is capable of.

"He could easily go to the Premier League and be tested there."

Gareth McAuley, 36, is the second oldest player in the NI squad behind fellow defender Aaron Hughes, who is one month older
Gareth McAuley, 36, is the second oldest player in the NI squad behind fellow defender Aaron Hughes, who is one month older

"We are ready for the challenge of keeping them out - but we will want to test the Polish defence as well.

"We want to do well at this tournament, not just make up the numbers.

"There is a real hunger. We know we can be tough to beat, but we have to get the balance right.

"We are ready to go. There is a little bit of tension building which is a nice feeling.

"Tomorrow it will really start to kick in as we travel to Nice."

Lasting legacy

McAuley, who has 61 caps despite not making his debut until he was 25, said the NI players were aware of the support behind them.

And he hopes the current squad's progress will lead to future groups being successful too.

"Our aim to is leave a legacy from this tournament of producing more players and Northern Ireland getting to more major tournaments without having to wait for another 30 years.

"This has done a lot for the country and it is fantastic to see how many people are behind us from all sections of the community."

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