Lee Camp believes Northern Ireland have a "wonderful" chance of qualifying for Euro 2012 after the goalless draw with Slovenia on Tuesday night at Belfast's Windsor Park left four teams in Group C spanning only two points.
Italy appear certain to take the automatic qualification place as they are five points clear on 13. But Nigel Worthington's team have six points, two behind Slovenia and Serbia, with Estonia on seven. Northern Ireland and Estonia have also played five games, one fewer than Slovenia and Serbia. The runner-up with the best record in the nine groups qualifies automatically for the finals in Ukraine and Poland, leaving the remaining eight second-place nations to play-off for four berths.
Camp, the Nottingham Forest goalkeeper who was making his full international home debut, said: "We're still in a very good position in the group, especially with the other game [between Estonia and Serbia] being drawn as well. We've got a game in hand, and it's the Faroes [Faroe Islands] at home next [in August]. If we win that we'll be pushing hard for that second spot. We've still got a wonderful chance of qualifying."
Camp believes that although Northern Ireland failed to qualify for last summer's World Cup the campaign offered Worthington's players vital experience.
He said: "The squad looks stronger than last year and there's a lot more maturity. The belief is there and we've added one or two players to give us a bit more strength in depth. I think last year was a steep learning curve for one or two of the lads. They're stronger for it."
The shoulder injury to Maik Taylor, the Birmingham City keeper who is now 39, paved the way for Camp to win his second international cap and he is determined to keep his place. "Obviously it's unfortunate on Maik and I wouldn't wish ill on anybody, but my opportunity has come probably a little earlier than people might have thought," he said. "I got a chance and I've done all I can to try and take it. I'm always pretty honest with what I say and I've made no bones about it: I want the shirt, and I want to play every game."
Camp, who was born in Derby, represented England at Under-21 level but the 26-year-old is clear where his loyalties rest. "There was a suggestion about me hoping for an England call [for the senior team] but nothing could be further from the truth. That was just someone else banging the drum, and I want that on the record. It was probably someone being a bit mischievous," he said. "Playing for Northern Ireland is a real feather in my cap. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and maybe I should have done it earlier, but I'm here now.
"I needed to rebuild my career and moving to Forest [from Queens Park Rangers] was my way of starting that. If you are going to do it [play senior international football] you have to do it right – I can give it my full commitment now because I am settled and happy at Forest."
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