EURO 2016: Northern Ireland defender Chris Baird plays down pressure ahead of Romania clash at Windsor Park

Chris Baird
Chris Baird

It has been billed as Northern Ireland’s biggest game in 30 years, but for Chris Baird it is “just another important fixture”.

The top two teams in Group F are preparing to face-off at Windsor Park on Saturday night.

Romania – perched just one point above Michael O’Neill’s side – travel to Belfast looking to cement their place at the summit.

Northern Ireland are craving victory that would see them on the brink of qualification for next summer’s Euro finals.

It is a huge game for Baird and his team-mates as they look to write their names into the country’s proud football history.

Northern Ireland have never qualified for a European Championships, while it will be 30 years since they last reached a major tournament.

No pressure then.

“We just see it as another game, and we are looking forward to it,” said Baird.

“It is a massive game, of course. If you win, you are pretty much nearly there. Even if you lose, you are still in a great position. But we are ready for it.

“Romania are a good side. They proved that out in Bucharest. We are focused on ourselves, and we know how good we are at home and we want to put on a good performance for the fans.”

The timing of Saturday’s game has the potential to backfire on O’Neill’s players, given that most of them finished their club seasons a number of weeks ago.

But a friendly game with Qatar and a training session against the Republic of Ireland has allowed O’Neill to hone his squad for the visit of Romania.

And Baird insists every single player is relishing the crunch showdown in Belfast.

“Some of the other lads finished their seasons on May 2, so it is a long time to wait for this game,” he said.

“But it was good to meet up and have those couple of games, and drill into us what is expected.

“It was good for the boys to get some game time, but now we are fully focused on this game.

“Nobody has been thinking of the summer holidays just yet. After Saturday night we can do that. Hopefully we get the right result and enjoy ourselves after that.”

Baird was part of the squad that almost qualified for the 2008 Euro finals.

Northern Ireland – managed by Lawrie Sanchez and then Nigel Worthington – took their campaign right down to the last game where they lost narrowly to Spain in Gran Canaria.

And while Baird can draw from that experience, he admits there is a different atmosphere in the current squad.

“This feels different to the 2008 one. We had Spain, Sweden and Denmark in the group and it was tough. But we did well,” he added.

“This one feels different. We have momentum and confidence at the minute, and we are geared up to do our jobs.

“We want to put that performance in and get the three points.

“The fact that the top two teams qualify is good. We can see the finishing line in front of us and we want to get there as quickly as we can.

“We are concentrating solely on this game, and if we get the right result we will be in an unbelievable position.

“We have endured many bad times. Myself, Brunty (Chris Brunt), Big G (Gareth McAuley, Aaron (Hughes) – we have been there, done it and failed many times.

“But the confidence in the group is massive at the minute. We had a setback against Romania, but we came back and beat Finland and we are still right on track.

“The young lads are doing fantastically well and helping us older lads out. It is a good mixture and we want to keep it going.”