Northern Ireland boss Nigel Worthington expects the race to win Group Three and ultimately a golden automatic qualifying ticket to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa to be extremely tight and go right to the wire.
The Czech Republic and Poland are considered the big favourites to finish in the top two places, but even those sides have already dropped points.
Northern Ireland’s opponents on Saturday night Slovenia are formidable opposition, so Worthington believes there will be plenty of twists in turns over the next 12 months.
Northern Ireland, as long as they manage to come away from Maribor with at least a point will be very much in the hunt going into Wednesday night’s game at Windsor Park against San Marino.
“I think the group is already showing that all the teams are going to be taking points off each other,” says Worthington.
“Poland has already had a draw against Slovenia - that was no easy game.
“We have the Czech Republic v Poland coming up so something’s got to give there – that’s no easy game. I think throughout this entire group teams will continue to take points off each other.
“What we have to do is make sure we do our job, play well and get the results we need. But we also have to keep our feet on the ground from the expectancy point of view.
“It is part of parcel of football that we expect a great deal – however we should remember where we are at, the size of our country and how many players we have to choose from compared to the greater sized countries in our group.
“In saying that, Slovakia and Slovenia – there are no excuses we should be looking to get decent results against these sides and that’s what we have got to do.”