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5 talking points ahead of Northern Ireland's World Cup qualifier with Azerbaijan

The World Cup qualification campaign takes Northern Ireland to the far east of the continent this weekend as they visit a European outpost that holds unhappy memories for Michael O'Neill's men.

However, while their last visit to Baku in 2013 ended in a 2-0 defeat, O'Neill's much-improved side are now facing an Azerbaijan team they thumped 4-0 at Windsor Park just seven months ago.

Here Press Association Sport looks at the talking points ahead of Saturday night's contest between the two countries.

CAN AZERBAIJAN SOLVE THEIR SET-PIECE ISSUES?

All but one of the Northern Irish's four goals against Robert Prosinecki's side in Belfast originated from dead-ball scenarios. Prosinecki admitted there was little he could do about his under-sized players given "they're not elastic" so the visitors must look to take full advantage from free-kicks, corners, and once again utilise Josh Magennis' long throws. What the Azeris lack in height, they have to make up for in organisation this time around.

CAN O'NEILL'S SIDE HANDLE THE HEAT?

A visit to Baku in June presents different challenges to a winter sojourn. Temperatures in the Azerbaijani capital have soared to over 30 degrees Celsius this week and the forecast is still for conditions to be in the mid-20s by kick-off at the Tofiq Bahramov Stadium on Saturday evening. To acclimatise, O'Neill's team have spent the week in the south of Turkey, yet there is a reason the Northern Ireland manager admits this is the worst possible time to play this fixture. The heat is most certainly on.

WILL BOYCE CONTINUE TO BE THE MAN?

Not everyone will know what Liam Boyce did last summer given he missed out on making O'Neill's 23-man squad for the Euros. Fast-forward 12 months and the Ross County striker is the form player in O'Neill's group having been the Scottish Premiership's leading scorer with 23 goals. He opened his international account last Friday in a friendly win over New Zealand too and therefore seems set to lead the line again eight days on. If the softly-spoken Boyce continues his recent goal glut, Northern Ireland will feel confident about returning home with the three points secured.

HOW WILL NORTHERN IRELAND COPE WITHOUT THEIR ABSENTEES?

With just 12 of the 20 outfield players O'Neill had in France now available to him, this team will have a very different make-up to the one deployed against Poland in Nice on June 12, 2016. Craig Cathcart, Paddy McNair and Chris Baird will all be missing from that XI, Kyle Lafferty is unlikely to start and Jamie Ward, Conor Washington and Corry Evans, regulars later in the tournament, are out too. The most interesting dilemma facing O'Neill is whether he picks dependable 37-year-old Aaron Hughes as part of a back three or shifts to a four, as he has tended to do when without Cathcart.

CAN THE AZERIS' NEW MEN MAKE AN IMPACT?

Just as Northern Ireland's team has changed over the past year, the XI Prosinecki selects will likely feature a couple of faces that were missing in Belfast. Captain Rashad Sadygov, the country's most capped outfield player with more than 100 appearances, is fit again while Richard Almeida and Renat Dadashov have recently come into the fray. Brazilian-born Qarabag forward Richard has only just been approved to be naturalised and Dadashov spent last summer scoring goals for Germany's Under-17s. Big things are expected of both.

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