Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 26 July 2014

Will it be a rocky road to Brazil?

If the Green and White Army are to swap Tyrella or Portstewart Strand for the Copacabana in 2014 then the World Cup qualifying draw will have to be kind to Northern Ireland.

And tonight we'll find out which teams will soon be arriving at Windsor Park when that draw is made in Rio de Janeiro.

We can't cherry pick, but this is who we might like to come up against to give Northern Ireland the best chance of making the finals in Brazil.

Pot One: It's great to play a team that we haven't met for a while and we got that in the Euros with Italy. Seeing the Azzurri strut their stuff at Windsor was fantastic. I'm sure the Green and White Army would have a ball in Amsterdam if the Netherlands came out of the hat.

There's also the chance of taking on a team that is past its peak, but is still in the top seeds and who is beatable, like the Czech Republic, who Northern Ireland drew with twice in the last World Cup group.

I'm going for a mixture. We haven't played Norway in a competitive game for 35 years - and I fancy we could get something from them.

Best option: Norway

Worst case scenario: Croatia (might not be the most welcoming place for fans and a very strong team too).

Pot Two: We've a record of ending up facing the same teams in back-to-back campaigns. Look back to the 1980s and it was like sitting down to your dinner on the day after Boxing Day - we were sick looking at Turkey.

We drew them in three consecutive qualifying series - Euro 84 and 88 as well as the 1986 World Cup qualifiers. The same thing could happen now with Slovenia - and I'd take them now. It's been proven that they are beatable, as we've won home and away against them.

Best option: Slovenia

Worst case scenario: Russia or Montenegro (nightmare trip to Russia, while Montenegro are better than they are given credit for).

Pot Three: The Republic to get a wee bit of revenge and show them what we can do with a full strength team? I wouldn't say no. How about a Czech Republic team who have dropped like a stone down the Fifa rankings? Recent results aren't great, so there's every chance.

Best option: Czech Rep

Worst case scenario: Belgium (rapidly improving team after a period in the doldrums)

Pot Five: This one is like the monkey enclosure at Bellevue Zoo - there are banana skins everywhere you look.

Armenia, Latvia, Moldova and Azerbaijan have all caused us problems before - not to mention the Faroes who could kill the Euro 2012 dream on Wednesday week - while Finland are in a false position.

I'd go for Latvia as they are poor travellers and making the same mistake over there can be avoided.

Best option: Latvia

Worst case scenario: Azerbaijan (worst possible place to travel to, especially in the first game of a double header).

Pot Six: Easy. I mean which team I fancy, not whether we'd win or not. We've never played Andorra before, but it seems a nice little place - and I'm told it's quite cheap too. I'd like to think that we'd get six points from them as well, which would be handy.

Best option: Andorra

Worst case scenario: Wales (man-for-man they're at least as good as us - and possibly better with players such as Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale.

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