Where can I watch San Marino v Northern Ireland and how will it go?
Northern Ireland's World Cup qualifying campaign gets back underway tonight in San Marino. Here's your quickfire guide to the game:
What time is the match?
The game takes place at the San Marino Stadium but, even though they are an hour ahead, it kicks off at 7.45pm BST.
Where can I watch it?
That kick-off time is presumably to satisfy the Sky bosses. The game will be broadcast live on Sky Sports. It's not immediately evident on the TV Guide as Lithuania v Scotland is the game on Sky Sports Main Event and SS Football. Have no fear though, you will be able to access the Northern Ireland match via the red button on channel 403 or on Sky Sports Mix. Bizarrely, it's over at channel 121 and there you will be able to watch NI without even having to bother hitting the red button.
Where can I keep up to date with a unique take on the game?
We're glad you asked. Keep an eye on our website for a live blog - offering our view on all the action!
Where is the key battle?
Aldo Simoncini v Kyle Lafferty
Lafferty has made an impressive start to his Hearts career, and seems to have been rejuvenated by a change of scenery and, most importantly, a run of games in the first team - something he’s badly needed.
Now he has to work his way back into a guaranteed starting position for his country, and a few goals against the minnows of San Marino would be the perfect way to do that. With Northern Ireland targetting the wide areas, Lafferty’s aerial presence will be key in the box.
Patrolling that box will be goalkeeper Simoncini, who will have to be alert to those wide balls into his area and command the box. Fail to do so and it could be a similar result to when these two sides met last October in Belfast.
What way will Northern Ireland line-up?
The saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” And Michael O’Neill would certainly be wise to heed those words in Serravalle tonight.
The Sanmarinese don’t have a very strong aerial presence, as highlighted in their 4-0 defeat in Belfast, and Northern Ireland would be wise to go for that tactic again.
Kyle Lafferty is an imposing figure up front at crosses, while Jonny Evans (if fit) and Tom Flanagan can add goals from set pieces as well.
If O’Neill sticks with his usual formation then the two wing-backs will be utilised mostly as secondary wingers in what should be a predominantly attacking game for Northern Ireland, which could influence selection as the pair will need to provide another option in advanced areas on a more regular basis.
Who are San Marino's other big players?
Danilo Rinaldi does pose something of a goal threat, even if the stats don’t exactly back it up, so keeping him quiet will be essential to Northern Ireland’s hopes. He’ll try and use all his experience to manufacture shooting opportunities where he can and at least test Michael McGovern.
Expect him to be closed down as quickly as possible, however, as his speed isn’t what it used to be.
With the reputation as the only professional footballer in the Sammarinese ranks, it’s also not a surprise that Mirko Palazzi will cause some problems when pressing forward from right back, while he’s also one that will be key for the hosts in shutting down any attacking threats on the left wing.
Alessandro Della Valle and Aldo Simoncini, while not scoring threats, are a danger to the Northern Irishmen in that they can quickly stop any threatening situations in defence, with both veteran operators in the San Marino rearguard.
Della Valle can be a danger from set pieces at the other end too, but only if granted the time and space he won’t get against Michael O’Neill’s men.
Give us one big statistic
Here you go then: Northern Ireland haven’t conceded a goal against San Marino in the three competitive matches they’ve played against them and, based on their campaign so far, there’s a very good chance that won’t change tonight.
Belfast Telegraph Digital