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Northern Ireland World Cup qualifiers: Injury forces Craig Cathcart out of squad as Hughes is drafted in

World Cup qualifiers

By Graham Luney

Craig Cathcart has once again been forced to withdraw from Northern Ireland's squad through injury, with Aaron Hughes replacing him for the World Cup Group C qualifiers against San Marino and Germany.

A groin strain saw Watford defender Cathcart miss the 0-0 draw in the Czech Republic last month and the same injury will deprive Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill of a player who featured in every minute of his country's Euro 2016 campaign this summer.

While the hosts will be confident of sweeping aside San Marino at Windsor Park on Saturday night, O'Neill's side will need to produce a resilient defensive display against World champions Germany on Tuesday and they will now have to do that without Cathcart.

Hughes, Northern Ireland's most capped outfield player ever with 103 caps, will link up with O'Neill's squad in Cathcart's absence even though a post-Euros move to Indian Super League club Kerala Blasters has ensured he is yet to play since the tournament in France.

The 36-year-old former Newcastle and Aston Villa defender played three times at Euro 2016 to edge him beyond the century cap mark.

O'Neill abandoned his three centre-back system without Cathcart in Prague and a flat-back four featuring League One full-backs Shane Ferguson and Conor McLaughlin kept a clean sheet.

Along with Cathcart, Ross County striker Liam Boyce is also now unavailable to O'Neill because of a knee injury sustained in Ross County's defeat by St Johnstone.

Will Grigg is already missing due to family reasons, leaving Kyle Lafferty, Conor Washington and Josh Magennis as the only three strikers in the squad.

After Saturday's San Marino clash, O'Neill's men travel to Hannover for a fixture with Germany, managed by Joachim Low, three days later.

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