Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis has confirmed that he will continue his international career as part of the squad for the World Cup qualifiers.
NI were drawn with Italy, Switzerland, Bulgaria and Lithuania in Group C for the campaign, which begins in March.
Davis has been capped 124 times, one short of former England goalkeeper Peter Shilton’s UK record of 125.
“I still enjoy going away with the squad and being part of the squad,” said Davis, 35.
The Rangers midfielder became Northern Ireland’s record caps holder when he passed Pat Jennings’ previous record of 119 in September.
“I’m looking forward to the games coming up now the draw has been made.”
Although he added that the draw was a “difficult” one, Davis added that playing Switzerland will offer Northern Ireland the chance to extinguish the play-off pain from three years ago.
Northern Ireland lost 1-0 on aggregate with the Swiss scoring the decisive goal in the first leg at Windsor Park with a penalty given against Corry Evans, who had been dubiously adjudged to have used his arm to block Xherdan Shaqiri’s shot.
“For me, it was a real low-point in my international career, to get that far and be so close only to be undone by a decision like that, it was certainly very difficult to take.
“It’s a game we can look forward to. We’re going to be in direct competition with Switzerland come the end of it and hopefully we can come out on top.”
While Northern Ireland do not yet know the order of the games, Davis believes it is difficult to “overestimate” the importance of getting off to a fast start.
In their successful Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, for example, they won the first three games before picking up 13 points from the first six in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, ultimately helping them reach the play-offs.
“There’s a snowball effect with the confidence and belief that gives you, it builds momentum and that’s huge in football.”
‘It’s a tough group’ – Baraclough
Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough admits his side have been handed a “tough” 2022 World Cup qualifying group but says they will “look forward” to the challenge, with only the group winners guaranteed qualification.
“Well, it’s a tough group,” admitted the Northern Ireland boss.
“But look, we’ve got a five-team group which is something we were looking forward to as a positive.”
The group will see Northern Ireland face the four-time world champions Azzurri side in addition to renewing hostilities with the Swiss who controversially beat them in that play-off for the 2018 tournament.
“There are some really tough eastern European places to go. Bulgaria and Lithuania, they will be strong physically and we know the qualities of Italy and Switzerland who we played three years ago in the previous play-offs.”
‘We can beat the so-called bigger teams’
While Northern Ireland will have their work cut out to finish inside the top two in the Group C, with the runners-up earning a play-offs spot, Baraclough insists his players are capable of beating “the bigger teams”.
Italy, whose last World Cup triumph came in the 2006 tournament, are 10th in the latest Fifa rankings with the Swiss occupying 16th spot.
“We know that on our night we can beat the so-called bigger teams and we have to be right for each and every one of those fixtures,” added Baraclough, whose side missed out on a place in next summer’s Euro Finals after a extra-time play-off defeat by Slovakia at Windsor Park last month.
“Fortunately enough during March and September, one of the triple-headers will be a friendly which hopefully will benefit us.
“It’s a tough group and one that we will be very much looking forward to come March.”
— to www.bbc.co.uk