Northern Ireland reporter notebook: Germany sell-out a big occasion
Sky Sports News reporter Paul Gilmour looks ahead to Northern Ireland's European Qualifiers against Germany and the Netherlands
By Paul Gilmour, Sky Sports News reporter
Last Updated: 09/09/19 8:15am
Northern Ireland will be looking to continue their perfect start to the Euro 2020 qualifiers when they welcome Germany at Windsor Park but Michael O'Neill has warned the real tests begin now.
O'Neill's team top Group C with four wins from four matches, knowing that the next two games with Germany and the Netherlands, home and away respectively, can give the younger, new-looked side - largely overhauled since the Euro 2016 exploits - a chance to come of age.
The Germans arrive in Belfast following a 4-2 home defeat against the Netherlands but are safe in the knowledge they have never lost back-to-back qualifiers.
Security is a key priority and the German FA has paid a significant sum to ensure their Belfast hotel is exclusively for them. Hotel staff have had to supply their car registrations to gain entry while even restaurant bookings from the general public are off-limits as the travelling party of German chefs make themselves at home.
After Ronald Koeman said Germany looked tired on Friday night, the players will at least be able to get a good night's sleep. Providing, of course, no one smokes in the rooms which is exactly what two tourists did when Fabio Capello's Russia stayed at the same hotel in 2013, setting off an alarm in the early hours of the morning!
The Irish Football Association has accredited around 275 media individuals for a game that has been sold out (18,500 capacity) for some time. It's the only fixture played at the new-look Windsor Park that has forced the IFA to give up the photographers' room in the media area. It's been turned into a TV studio for the German TV rights holders. There will be around 29 operational cameras being used during the game by Sky Sports and RTL.
Jamal Lewis has been one of the shining lights for Northern Ireland since his debut against South Korea, producing a series of energetic performances going forward. The big games are coming thick and fast for the 21-year-old Norwich left-back and in an interview with Sky Sports at the team hotel, he reflected on facing Liverpool and Chelsea early in the season. It doesn't get much easier - after Germany, Lewis faces Manchester City on Saturday.
This will be Northern Ireland's fourth meeting with Germany since Michael O'Neill took charge and it's fair to say supporters have formed a close bond. The German fans adored the 'Will Grigg's on Fire' anthem during previous meetings and there is even a Northern Ireland supporters club in Hanover.
Long-standing NI supporter Piers Dalgarno befriended a group of German fans at Euro 2016 and they were soon members of the club. Some of them have already been to Belfast to watch games against Germany, Austria and Estonia.
They also attended the Swiss leg of NI's World Cup play-off and travelled to Vienna for the away tie against Austria. One of the German members, Marko Kresic, is on the coaching staff of Hanover 96. They are all hoping to sit together in the home end at Windsor Park on Monday.
Captain breaking record
Captain Steven Davis, a hugely popular figure and respected by staff, players, media and fans, will become Northern Ireland's most capped outfield player when he makes his 113th appearance. Facing the former world champions is a far cry from his debut in 2005 when 10-man Canada left Windsor Park with a 1-0 win.
Since that day, no British or Irish player has won as many caps. Wayne Rooney is next on the list with 100 followed by Republic of Ireland's John O'Shea (99) and Chris Gunter of Wales (95). Davis is closing in on NI's all-time appearance maker Pat Jennings, who played for his country 119 times.
Watch Northern Ireland vs Germany on Sky Sports Main Event on Monday with coverage starting at 7pm.