Belfast Telegraph

Friday 21 November 2014

Northern Ireland v San Marino: Cheer us up lads

It has been a pretty depressing start to Northern Ireland’s World Cup qualifying campaign.

Defeats in Slovakia and Slovenia, when both games could have been won, hit the team and the supporters hard.

In between an encouraging display earned our boys a 0-0 draw at home to the Czech Republic, but in terms of our qualification hopes, we should have won that one as well.

And earlier this week came another IFA shambles which could end up in court, heaping more embarrassment on football in Northern Ireland, following the sacking of Howard Wells as chief executive

Ever get the feeling, we could do with a Northern Ireland victory to cheer us up.

Well, as luck would have it, we should get exactly that tonight.

San Marino are the visitors to Windsor Park in the latest World Cup qualifier.

They are the worst team in Europe and one of the worst in the world.

Since gaining affiliation to governing bodies FIFA and UEFA in 1988, they have NEVER won a competitive game.

Indeed in 18 away matches in the World Cup, they have lost 17, drawn one against Latvia, scored three goals and conceded a whopping 94.

On one infamous occasion in 1992 San Marino lost 10-0 to Norway!

More recently they have not fared much better, losing their last 25 games.

Feeling a bit better yet?

One note of caution, in the last European Championship campaign they were just EIGHT seconds away from securing a draw at home to the Republic of Ireland but then that was when Steve Staunton was in charge.

In the same group San Marino lost 13-0 to Germany!

Yes, it’s true there have been noises coming out of the Northern Ireland camp this week that a 1-0 home win will do, just to get that first victory on the board, but believe me the manager and players will want a more convincing scoreline than that.

For the record Northern Ireland’s biggest win in a World Cup qualifier is 4-1 against Albania in 1965 and Turkey in 1968, both at Windsor.

That record could be broken, especially if Worthington’s men score early on, and if you want to be super optmistic our biggest ever win was a 7-0 thrashing of Wales way back in 1930 at Celtic Park.

After the disappointment and frustration of Saturday night in Slovenia, strike duo David Healy and Kyle Lafferty will be raring to go.

Healy, who has scored a remarkable 34 goals in 68 interationals, is keen to get off the mark in this campaign and although, as always these days in international football, he will be a marked man, if chances come his way expect the Suinderland man to put them away.

Keith Gillespie, winning his 85th cap, will hope to provide those opportunities along with Steve Davis, Michael O’Connor and Grant McCann in midfield.

At the back Gareth McAuley, captain Aaron Hughes, Chris Baird and George McCartney and goalkeeper Maik Taylor may not have too much to do but will still need to be on their guard should any of the students or accountants in the San Marino side threaten.

A draw or defeat is unthinkable, so I’ll not go into the consequences of that.

Northern Ireland WILL win tonight. Nothing else will do.

Kick-off at Windsor Park is 7.45pm.

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