Chris Baird is confident that Northern Ireland will be right back in contention to qualify for the World Cup after the latest Group Three double header.
Baird and the rest of Nigel Worthington’s squad, minus Jonny Evans, flew out to Slovenia today for a match that is sure to have a major bearing on whether the Green and White Army are packing their bags for a trip to South Africa in 2012.
With San Marino coming to Windsor Park next Wednesday, and you would think a guaranteed three points from that fixture, Northern Ireland can be a real six-hit over the next week should they overcome Slovenia on Saturday night.
That would put Worthington’s men on seven points out of 12, which incidentally would be the same number achieved at the same stage as the Euro 2008 qualifying campaign which almost ended in glory.
After not starting in the 2-1 defeat in Slovakia last month, Fulham ace Baird was back in the side against the Czech Republic due to the withdrawal of Steve Davis.
Baird was outstanding in a midfield holding role in the 0-0 draw and can expect to be included again in that position with Sammy Clingan out injured for the Slovenia clash.
With Northern Ireland second bottom in the group after the first round of games, the experienced Baird is aware of how important the forthcoming matches are.
“We know that six points out of six from our next two games would put us right back into contention in the group,” said Baird, who has won 35 caps.
“Even though we are trailing in the group at present, I would say that bar San Marino, everyone has a chance of finishing in the top two places.
“At home we have a great recent record and don’t fear anyone but obviously our away form has to improve.
“The game with Slovenia is the
ideal opportunity for us to do that.
“I really believe that if we can get some points on the board on our travels we will have a real chance of making the World Cup finals.”
In his time as a Northern Ireland international, Baird has played every defensive position, but he is more than happy to perform in midfield when required.
“I’ll play anywhere for the team,” he adds.
“It was difficult in midfield against the Czechs who are a quality outfit, but we more than held our own.
“I always work my socks off for my country and will do so again if selected this time around.”
Meanwhile Northern Ireland were rocked this morning when Manchester United defender Evans, superb in the 0-0 draw against the Czechs, failed to travel to Slovenia due to a virus, while goalkeeper Maik Taylor has a heavy cold which could mean a recall for Derby County number one Roy Carroll.