Look Hughes dreaming of qualification
Fulham defender Aaron Hughes would love to build on the superb win over Slovenia and lead Northern Ireland into a major championship. Hughes was a rock at the back along with Stephen Craigan as their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign got off to a perfect start. Substitute Corry Evans, making his first competitive outing, was the match-winner in the 1-0 victory against Slovenia in Maribor. He swept the ball home at the back post in the 70th minute following a low cross from Craig Cathcart on his debut. Northern Ireland then manned the barricades to stun the hosts, surprise participants in the World Cup finals. Next up are Italy at Windsor Park on October 8 with Serbia, Estonia and the Faroe Islands also in the group. Cottagers defender Hughes, who handed the captain's armband to Craigan as he was winning his 50th cap, said: "We know our strengths, we also know our weaknesses, we know what works for us. "If we stick to that, hopefully we can have a successful campaign and take that extra step to actually get to a finals. How good would that be? "It's a tough group, but that doesn't lower expectations. We are setting out to qualify, no matter how difficult that might be. "Whatever anyone else thinks outside the camp is really irrelevant to what we want to do. If we approach every game properly and do things right, we will give ourselves as good a chance as ever." Hughes believes there is a good blend in the squad that leaves him optimistic about the future. "We've got lads who have been about for a couple of campaigns and they are still young players," he said. "Add that experience to the enthusiasm and promise of the young lads coming through, the likes of Johnny Gorman, Corry Evans and Craig Cathcart, you have that nice mix. "Everyone has had a good taste of competitive football in terms of qualifying groups, so hopefully we can use that to our advantage." Evans has yet to make a first-team appearance for Manchester United while Cathcart left Old Trafford in the summer to join Blackpool. Sheffield-born Gorman, who attends Wolves Academy and Repton School, came on in the closing minutes which means he is no longer eligible for either England or the Republic or Ireland. Italy, under new coach Cesare Prandelli, came from behind to defeat Estonia 2-1 in their opening qualifier. Craigan expects them to ditch their traditional defensive ideals now Marcello Lippi has departed after they failed to get past the World Cup group stages in South Africa. "They will be a different attacking team to the disappointing one we saw at the World Cup and maybe they were an ageing side," said the Motherwell defender. "Maybe they were together too long and they should have brought in some fresh faces but how can I tell Marcello Lippi what to do? "We cannot read too much into what they did at the World Cup because they will be a different side and they will have a little point to prove."
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