Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 29 July 2014

O’Neill must find way to crack Capello code

Meeting of minds: Michael O’Neill and Fabio Capello will come face to face in the World Cup qualifier in September

Michael O’Neill had been hoping to capitalise on an uncertainty that may exist in the Russia camp when the 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign kicks-off in September.

Catch them cold after the disappointment of crashing out of Euro 2012 at the group stage and make the most of taking on a team playing under a new manager was the plan O’Neill had already drawn up.

Let’s face it, when Northern Ireland travel to Moscow for the first game of the campaign on Friday, September 7 O’Neill and his players will be looking to take advantage of any small thing they can.

What he won’t have bargained for is going head-to-head with a manager who has only lost one meaningful competitive international fixture.

The Russian’s search for a new manager ended when Fabio Capello ended a six-month exile from the game after his departure as England manager by agreeing a deal with the RFU — that’s the Russian Football Union, not England’s rugby governing body.

The Italian will fly to Moscow later this week to sign the contract.

“If everything is completed in the best possible way, as the announcement from the Russian Federation states, I will be happy and proud,” said Capello as he confirmed the news.

“If, as I believe the case will be, all goes as planned in terms of the contract, it will be a splendid adventure.

“Russia are a great nation.”

During his time as England

boss Capello had an impeccable record in qualification and O’Neill now has the unenviable task of attempting to inflict a first hurtful defeat in what will be his competitive international debut.

Capello took over the Three Lions after Steve McClaren’s failure to reach the Euro 2008 finals and subsequently won his first eight qualifying games to book a place at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Losing the ninth to Ukraine meant nothing.

The 4-1 defeat to Germany which ended England’s interest in the finals at the second hurdle was the first defeat that really mattered to Capello.

An unbeaten campaign saw Capello also guide England to the Euro 2012 finals, but he was gone before he got the chance to test his team against the best in Europe after a fall out with the FA.

Capello will have one friendly, against the Ivory Coast next month, to prepare his team for the visit of Northern Ireland.

Finland will visit Windsor Park on the same night, when O’Neill will be looking to record not only his first win, the team also awaits its first goal under its new management.

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