Northern Ireland To Continue Top Euro 2016 Start
Northern Ireland v Faroe Islands
Northern Ireland welcome the Faroe Islands to Belfast on Saturday hoping to build on their fine start to the Euro 2016 qualifiers.
Two late goals in Budapest gave Michael O’Neill’s side a famous 2-1 over Hungary win in their first qualifier for the finals in France to set them up perfectly in a group which looks to be of the kinder variety with Romania and Greece as top seeds. Niall McGinn and Kyle Lafferty were the heroes for O’Neill’s side in the last ten minutes as they reversed the opener by Tamas Priskin to stun the home support and give the visitors a first win on their travels for more than four years.
That failure to pick up a win on the road had stretched to 18 matches, when Northern Ireland beat Slovenia 1-0 in a Euro 2012 qualifier and was the first time the side had managed to find the net in an away game for five matches and was also only a second win in 22 games for the North.
Ranked 179th in the FIFA World Rankings, it’s little surprise to see the Faroe Islands are struggling. They’ve won only one group game in their last three qualifying campaigns – against Estonia in 2011 – while drawing one and losing nine of their ten World Cup 2014 qualifiers in a group including Austria, Sweden and Ireland.
The Faroes were beaten 3-1 by Finland in their first qualifying game and will be disappointed to have lost out having taken a 1-0 lead into half-time and holding onto a share of the spoils until the final 12 minutes in Torshavn before they shipped two late goals. Prior to that defeat to the Finns they had some encouraging results after beating Gibraltar 4-1, drawing with Kazakhstan one apiece and narrowly losing out 3-2 to Malta.
Manchester United defender Jonny Evans is out for Northern Ireland with an ankle problem which has seen the centre-back miss his past two club games. His replacement at international level could have mirrored that at the club too but youngster Paddy McNair has also now been ruled out with a hamstring problem.
Aberdeen wide man McGinn is in line to start following his influential appearance from the bench in their last outing, when the scored one and made the other. Brighton’s Paddy McCourt is also in contention for a spot with O’Neill hinting the former Celtic man will have a big part to play.
Danish boss Lars Christian Olsen is likely to keep faith with the same starting XI which performed so well for an hour. Current Motherwell, and former Manchester City goalkeeper Gunnar Neilsen should line out between the posts.
In four previous meetings between these nations, the Faroes have twice held Northern Ireland to 1-1 draws. Their last clash ended 4-0 to Northern Ireland with McCourt scoring twice, after which he made just six international appearances in three years. Aaron Hughes opened the scoring for the hosts at Windsor Park that night, with Steven Davis hitting the second.
It really looks to be a case of now or never for Northern Ireland as if they fail to beat sides ranked as poorly as the Faroe Islands then one-off wins over Hungary will be meaningless.
At 1/4 there’s no value in the home win but with the visitors likely to employ a damage limitation strategy and goals hard to come by for the hosts, under 2.5 goals appeals at 10/11 while Lafferty looks well-priced at 23/20 to score anytime and the 17/4 on a 2-0 scoreline is also worth a wager.