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Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill relishing Belarus test ahead of Euro 2016

By Graham Luney

Published 18/02/2016

Final straight: Gareth McAuley and his men will take on Belarus
at Windsor Park on May 27
Final straight: Gareth McAuley and his men will take on Belarus at Windsor Park on May 27

Northern Ireland will clash with Belarus in the first fixture between the countries on Friday, May 27 (7.45pm).

It will be the final home warm-up game ahead of the Euro 2016 finals in France for Michael O'Neill's side.

The Green and White Army will be able to send their best wishes to the team ahead of the French adventure and while the game cannot be dubbed a glamour fixture, O'Neill's only focus is on assessing the strengths and weaknesses of players on the fringe of his squad ahead of the battles against Poland, Ukraine and Germany in the finals.

Most of the Belarus players play their club football in their own country - six players from European club competition regulars BATE Borisov featured in their last squad - or in Russia.

Their squad includes Egor Filipenko, who plays for Malaga in La Liga, Stanislaw Drahun of Russian side Dynamo Moscow, BATE star Mikhail Gordeichuk and Anton Putsila, a key player for Turkish side Gaziantepspor.

"Belarus have had a solid season so far and they will provide a good test for us as we build towards our first game in France," said O'Neill.

"The game, of course, will also act as a send-off for the team so I'm sure there will be a great atmosphere in the stadium, which the players will really appreciate."

Belarus played in the same Euro qualifying group as Ukraine.

They finished fourth in their group behind automatic qualifiers Spain and Slovakia and third-placed Ukraine.

They ended their qualifying campaign strongly with wins over Luxembourg and Slovakia and a draw against Macedonia.

Following the game Northern Ireland will travel to Austria for a week-long training camp before playing their final Euros preparation game against fellow European Championship finalists Slovakia at the new City Arena stadium in Trnava on June 4 (kick-off time TBC).

Ticket details for the Belarus fixture will be announced in the coming weeks.

Belfast Telegraph

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