Goalkeeping legend Pat Jennings believes the ‘Fabio Capello factor’ and late withdrawals could hit Northern Ireland hard in Moscow tomorrow night.
Northern Ireland kick-off their World Cup qualifying campaign against Russia and new boss Capello has stamped his authority by axing Andrei Arshavin and Roman Pavlyuchenko – while blending youth with experience.
Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill would love to be able to mix and match his squad but ahead of his first competitive game, he has already lost the services of Shane Ferguson, Paddy McCourt and Martin Paterson.
Jennings, who won a record 119 Northern Ireland caps, says: “Russia is never an easy place to go but they also have a new manager who will want to get off to a good start. I’d gladly take a draw now.
“Our problem and it seems to happen in every game is withdrawals. The late withdrawals and things, they just didn’t happen when I played, they had to tell me when to stop playing when I was 41! Hopefully the majority of this bunch will be available throughout the campaign.”
Jennings participated in two World Cup finals for Northern Ireland so he knows only too well how difficult it is to qualify.
Understandably, he struggles to comprehend how Northern Ireland will come out of a group that contains Portugal, Russia, Israel, Azerbaijan and Luxembourg.
However, he does have one piece of advice for O’Neill’s men – defend for their lives and then nick one on the counter attack.
“If you look at the results we got in qualifying for the ‘82 and ‘86 World Cups, we didn’t concede many goals and we made it hard for teams to break us down. They will have to do that on Friday.”