Kyle Lafferty assures Northern Ireland fans he will be fit to face Poland
PUBLISHED: 13:07 09 June 2016 | UPDATED: 13:09 09 June 2016
Northern Ireland striker Kyle Lafferty expects to shake off a groin niggle in time for his country’s Euro 2016 opener against Poland in Nice on Sunday.
The Norwich City forward only worked on an exercise bike during the opening stages of yesterday training session, having hobbled off with a groin problem on Tuesday.
The 28-year-old watched from a machine on a balcony as the rest of Michael O’Neill’s squad went through drills at their base in Saint-Georges-de-Reneins, with Craig Cathcart joining that main group for the first time in France since suffering a back injury in Slovakia.
O’Neill had insisted there were “no major concerns” over Lafferty’s fitness ahead of the Poland clash, but he left the bike at the end of the section open to the media and walked back inside gingerly.
Lafferty later took to Twitter to confirm he was recovering quickly. “Results of scan,” he started, before using a ‘thumbs-up’ emoji.”Now back on the pitch and bring on the Poles.”
The update will come as welcome news to the Northern Irish supporters who had feared they were about to begin their first finals in 30 years without their talismanic forward.
It was Lafferty’s seven goals in qualification that fired the nation to France and his rejuvenation under O’Neill has been a significant reason for their transformation.
Watford defender Cathcart was back in the fold on Wednesday though having come off injured against Slovakia last Friday.
“It’s fine,” he said of his back problem.
“I managed to get through the session today fairly pain free. I’ve still got that little bit of pain there but hopefully that will settle down over the next couple of days and I’ll be ready to go for Sunday.”
In quotes carried in The Belfast Telegraph on Tuesday, three-time French footballer of the year Alain Giresse claimed Michael side are “far too limited” technically to compete with Group C rivals Germany, Poland and Ukraine when they begin their campaign this weekend.
“It would really be a huge surprise if they go through the first round,” he insisted. “In their group, Germany should be widely above (the rest), and Poland and Ukraine both have better players than them. I hardly even know a Northern Ireland player, besides Jonny Evans, maybe.”
O’Neill’s side have been the outsiders before, though, and they became the first club from pot five to top a European Championship qualifying campaign to reach their first finals since the 1986 World Cup.
Cathcart began the season hearing suggestions his club side would be relegated, yet Watford managed to defy the odds as well by finishing 13th and reaching an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley.
“I have been an underdog before with both Northern Ireland and the same at Watford in the Premier League when people wrote us off,” he said. “When you hear things like that it does spur you on to prove those people wrong and I’m sure that’s what we’ll do.”
The 27-year-old also refuted Giresse’s suggestion that a squad that is unbeaten in 12 fixtures lacks the technical skill to match other countries.
“Absolutely not,” Cathcart stressed. “In key positions we have real quality players and the likes of Davo (Steven Davis), Ollie (Norwood) and Wardy (Jamie Ward) are great technicians with the ball, so we have quality in the positions that you need them in.”