Northern Ireland full-back Ryan McGivern believes coming up against Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani last month helped him make a breakthrough as an international player.
McGivern performed admirably in the biggest test of his career against Portugal's star wingers and came out in credit as he helped his side to a 1-1 draw at the Dragao Stadium. Most pundits expected Ronaldo and Nani to give McGivern a torrid time but he stood his ground and came out of the experience with new-found self-belief.
"Personally it was a great experience, probably one of the highlights of my career so far," said McGivern, who is expected to retain his place against Azerbaijan. "It's given me a bit of confidence. Marking two of the top wingers in the game, Nani and (especially) Ronaldo, who's one of the best players in the world along with Lionel Messi.
"If I managed to keep those two quiet enough for 90 minutes it gives me a lot of confidence for the rest of my career. It was a great team performance - Portugal were ranked three in the world at the time - and for us to go there and get a point was great."
McGivern remains contracted to Manchester City but is currently plying his trade at Hibernian, already the sixth different loan club of his career.
So far the latest move has proved a roaring success, with McGivern getting regular starts and the Easter Road outfit currently topping the Clydesdale Bank Premier League ahead of Celtic. With City's multi-million pound recruitment policy showing no sign of abating, moving to Easter Road was not a hard decision for McGivern.
"I'm enjoying my football at the minute. It's a new challenge for me up in Scotland and I'm really enjoying it," he said. "The team's doing well and I'm doing well myself so I hope it continues.
"From my first loan experience a couple of years ago I've always been chasing it. Ever since I got a taste of first-team football I've never wanted to go back, I've always wanted to be involved in the first team.
"If I wasn't going to be involved in the first team at City I never wanted to stay there and hang about. I want to get out and play games because I'm at an age now where I need to start developing and playing first-team football on a regular basis."
Manager Michael O'Neill lost a fifth member of his original 24-man squad yesterday when midfielder Grant McCann flew home to be with his heavily pregnant wife. Jamie Ward, Jonny Evans, Andy Little and Alex Bruce had already pulled out with injury problems, with Billy McKay, Danny Lafferty and Ryan McLaughlin called in as cover.
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