Successful Start To Shine Through For Northern Ireland
Romania v Northern Ireland
Can Northern Ireland maintain their 100% record in Group F? Or will Romania snatch top spot?
Away wins in Greece and Finland sandwich a home draw with Hungary and equate to a very good start to Euro 2016 qualifying for the Romanians. The campaign began with a Ciprian Marica penalty inside 10 minutes of their game against Greece, before the same player was sent off early in the second half and they valiantly held on for the win.
Raul Rusescu then scored an ill-tempered 1-1 draw with Hungary – there were 12 yellow cards shown in the game – before a Bigdan Stancu brace gave Romania a 2-0 win in Finland after the Fins were reduced to ten men 10 minutes into the second period.
Since the Finland game, Victor Piturca – who left the national team job to take up a position at Saudi Arabian club Al Ittihad – has been replaced as manager by Anghel Iordânescu.
As good as Romania’s start to the campaign has been, it has been overshadowed by the success of Northern Ireland who have a 100% record from their three opening Euro 2016 qualifying games.
Michael O’Neill’s men began with a 2-1 win in Hungary thanks to goals from Niall McGinn and Kyle Lafferty, and then followed that with 2-0 victories at home to Faroe Islands and away to Greece; Lafferty scoring again in both.
This is now Northern Ireland’s best ever start to qualification for a major tournament, and the first time that they have ever won three consecutive games at the start of a qualifying campaign for a World Cup or European Championships.
Aaron Hughes is a major doubt following an ankle injury picked up playing for Brighton last week, while Jamie Ward and Ryan McLaughlin have both pulled out of the game with respective thigh and groin injuries.
Manchester Untied defender Paddy McNair has been named in the squad for the first time, while teammate Jonny Evans remains a long-term absentee.
Romania won 2-0 in the most recent meeting between the two teams – an international friendly back in May 2006 where Tiberiu Balan and Daniel Niculae scored the goals at a neutral venue in the United States.
The only previous competitive meeting came way back in qualification for the 1986 World Cup. Northern Ireland won 3-2 to deny Romania a place at the finals, with a certain Gheorghe Hagi scoring his first ever international goal in the game.
Northern Ireland were underestimated in the betting against Greece last time out, and duly obliged for those brave enough to back them. The same applies this Friday with O’Neill’s men priced at a huge 11/2.
More conservative approaches can be taken by backing the visitors at 18/5 in the Draw No Bet Market or taking Northern Ireland or Draw at odds of 13/10 in the Double Chance market. I strongly fancy that they can take at least a point from the game.
Both sides have conceded just once and kept two clean sheets in their opening three games, therefore goals are not expected. Under 2.5 goals is priced at odds of 8/15 and the No selection in the Both Teams To Score market is available at the same odds.