Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill in glory hunt

Northern Ireland has never qualified for the European Championship finals and on current form our hopes of reaching France 2016 are slim, especially if the Faroe Islands fancy their chances of a first international success at Northern Ireland's expense.

Some might rate Northern Ireland's chances of making the last 24 but not McLean Bookmakers who are prepared to lay Michael O'Neill's boys at 7/2, and 1/3 not to qualify.

They are 33/1 to win the group also containing Greece, Hungary, Romania, Finland and the Faroes.

None of them are what would be referred to as 'big guns' but it's the bigger the better as far as Northern Ireland are concerned, our international side remaining vulnerable to the weaker nations, especially away from home.

Forget about winning the group – Greece, who are in the World Cup finals in Brazil, should justify 5/4 favouritism – leaving hopes resting on being second or third, the latter providing at least a play-off.

If we get that far, then that 7/2 will be looking juicy.

But in all honesty, it's a brave man who would risk it at this stage, especially with three tough away fixtures between next September and November.

A place in Group E, featuring England, or Group D along with Scotland and the Republic, would have engendered plenty of excitement.

Roy Hodgson's Three Lions couldn't have asked for an easier task. Taking on San Marino, Lithuania, Estonia, Slovenia and Switzerland makes them worthy hot pots at a generous 1/2 in places to top the section.

More tempting, at 6/4, is England to repeat their World Cup campaign by qualifying without losing a match.

All the anti-England crowd can avail of 9/1 not to make it to France while punters with the rose-tinted spectacles will consider 12/1 for victory in all 10 games.

The Republic and Scotland have reason for optimism in coming through in Group D which is at the mercy of Germany with Poland in the mix.

With Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane leading the Republic, against Scotland's Gordon Strachan, it adds an extra dimension to their first clash at Hampden on November 14.

The Republic are 6/4 to qualify compared to 11/8 Scotland. Go for the boys in green.

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