Germany defender Mats Hummels conceded he is a huge fan of Northern Ireland’s romantic rise from also-rans to major-tournament competitors ahead of the sides’ Euro 2016 Group C meeting in Paris.
The world champions head into their concluding group game on four points – only one clear of Michael O’Neill’s minnows, who stunned Ukraine 2-0 last time out in Lyon.
Conor Washington, Northern Ireland’s postman-turned forward, starred in that game and has caught Hummels’ eye, while the Bayern Munich-bound centre-back is also well-versed in the unlikely tournament phenomenon of the Will Grigg song.
“Concerning Conor Washington I’ve heard about the story, I love stories like that,” said Hummels, who also expects Northern Ireland’s vociferous support to be a factor at the Parc des Princes on Tuesday.
“We know they live from the emotions and are supported from the fans, I think one out of 10 of the Northern Irish people are present here in the tournament.”
Despite failing to play a minute in the competition so far, Wigan Athletic striker Grigg and those well-worn claims of flammability have provided a fans’ soundtrack to Euro 2016.
Hummels is as entertained as anyone else, professing his knowledge of a group of Northern Ireland supporters prank-calling a fire station to offer their version of the song, and even promising to swap shirts with Grigg.
Northern Ireland fans calling for an emergency pic.twitter.com/C5KnTocR65
— Will Grigg’s On Fire (@WillGriggFire) June 16, 2016
“Well, although I like this song and these actions, I would like to agree to that but it’s not quite right,” he said, assuaging fears the Germany defence will be “terrified” should the 24-year-old enter the fray at the Parc des Princes.
“I’ve heard about this call to the firefighters – I love this story. I will try to give him my jersey tomorrow. We don’t want them to score but I am already a great fan of his.”
Germany were delayed on their arrival to the venue for Monday’s pre-match news conference on account of the infamous Parisian traffic, while coach Joachim Low sat out the session due to a sore throat.
The Germany boss later emerged for open training despite heavy rainfall and Hummels credited him with being a calming influence amid a sometimes sluggish start to their Euro 2016 campaign – somewhat at odds to a certain former leader of his at Borussia Dortmund.
“He has always been relaxed,” he said of Low. “Also, in difficult situations he smiles a little bit and sometimes he makes a joke.
“Maybe he plans that in advance but, yes, that’s something that he transmits. He trusts in us and he gives us the feeling that he works with us and that he likes this work. Even if we don’t play so well he will trust in us in the next game.
“He wasn’t so loud in dressing room after the Poland game – not as loud as Jurgen Klopp would have been. I have never seen anyone as loud as Mr Klopp before!”