Arsenal wonderkid set for biggest test of fledgling career after brilliant debut


Fresh from his Northern Ireland debut Arsenal youngster Daniel Ballard insists he is ready for the challenge posed by Erling Haaland, one of the best young strikers in world football.

Ballard, yet to make his bow for the Arsenal first team but a fixture in their youth setup, won his first cap for his national team on Sunday, playing 90 minutes as the 10 men of Northern Ireland held firm in defence and struck late to earn a 1-1 draw in Romania.

The 19-year-old certainly played his part in the rearguard effort, making six interceptions and winning four of five aerial duels in what was only his fourth senior competitive match.

Should Ballard reach No.5 against Norway on Monday night he will find himself facing a dangerous attack spearheaded by Borussia Dortmund striker Haaland, who scored 44 goals in 40 club games last season and netted in his country’s 2-1 defeat to Austria in Nations League Group B1.

Northern Ireland will welcome the likes of Haaland, Bournemouth’s Josh King and the red hot former Crystal Palace striker Alexander Sorloth to Windsor Park but Ballard sees no cause for fear.

“I will be looking forward to Monday now (against Norway),” Ballard told reporters after his side’s draw in Bucharest.

“If I have to face the best players in the world I will be ready. I am up for the challenges.”

Ballard has been called up to the senior side infrequently since first getting the nod in March 2019 and found much of the following season to be a frustrating one after a serious knee injury forced him to return to Arsenal three games into a loan spell with Swindon Town.

It remains to be seen whether Arsenal will opt to loan Ballard out again but it appears a more likely scenario with the Gunners having signed Jonathan Dinzeyi from Tottenham for their youth setup last month.

Whatever Ballard, who was born in Stevenage and qualifies for Northern Ireland through his mother, achieves in the remainder of the season it will struggle to match up to his experience of making his senior debut.

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“It was probably one of the proudest moments of my life so far, definitely,” Ballard said. “I was quite nervous going into the game. I knew the occasion and what it means to play for Northern Ireland.

“I just tried to settle into the game and do the simple things. We wanted the three points, but the circumstances made it difficult.

“But I am just so proud to get something out of the game. It was a tough game and I really enjoyed it.

“I was called up to the U21s a week or so ago, and then there were some problems with Tom Flanagan, and then Jonny Evans after that.

“So from going with the U21s to starting for the senior team is a big jump. It came as a bit of a shock but I was ready for the challenge.”

He is no less prepared as the prospect of facing Haaland and company looms large.





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