Belfast Telegraph

Monday 24 November 2014

McPake sidelined for Portugal game

James McPake has been denied the opportunity to follow up his battle against Robin van Persie by clashing with Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Hibernian captain made his international debut in Northern Ireland’s 6-0 hammering against Holland back in June, when van Persie was in scintillating form, scoring two of the half a dozen goals.

McPake has been ruled out of the World Cup qualifier against Portugal in Porto next Tuesday, meaning he won’t get to face Real Madrid star Ronaldo in his second international appearance..

He has been nursing an an Achilles tendon problem of late, but has still been playing regularly for Hibs in the Scottish PRemier League while under treatment.

The injury has now flared up after the 3-0 win over Dundee at the weekend — a match while Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill watched — and while the rest of the squad headed for a training camp on the Portuguese coast today the 28-year-old remained at home in Edinburgh.

Scottish-born McPake, who qualifies for Northern Ireland courtesy of his County Antrim-born grandfather, joins West Bromwich Albion winger Chris Brunt on the injured list as O’Neill looks for his first win since becoming the international boss at the start of the year.

Also missing is Brunt’s Baggies team mate Gareth McAuley, after he picked up yellow cards in each of the opening two qualifying games against Russia and Luxembourg last month.

The defeat in Moscow, followed by the setback of a 1-1 draw with Luxembourg at Windsor Park, has made an already difficult task in qualifying for the World Cup finals in Brazil even harder, especially with Portugal being the next opponents.

One piece of good news for O’Neill is that he will go to Portugal with a striker in goalscoring form within his ranks.

Walsall’s Will Grigg — who like McPake made his Northern Ireland debut in Amsterdam — was on target for his club against Port Vale in last night’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy tie, although he wasn’t able to help his team win the game as they suffered a penalty shoot-out defeat following a 2-2 draw.

David Healy was also in action last night before meeting up with the international squad.

He played for an hour as Bury reached the next round of the competition, beating Rochdale on penalties.

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