Belfast Telegraph

O'Neill Azer blast: we don't fear your Brazilian blow-in

By Paul Ferguson in Baku

Defiant Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill last night rapped back at his Azerbaijan counterpart Robert Prosinecki over the Azeris' World Cup 'secret weapon', newly qualified Brazilian capture Richard Almeida.

Former Croatia star Prosinecki had taunted that he hoped Northern Ireland would find Sao Paulo-born midfield playmaker Richard Almeida 'fearsome' in tonight's vital World Cup Group C clash in steamy Baku (5.00pm).

Almeida, who plays his club football in oil rich Azerbaijan and qualifies under the five year residency rule, was only been given clearance by Fifa to play for the Azeri national side two weeks ago.

But unimpressed O'Neill observed dryly: "I don't think the best Brazilians play in Azerbaijan."

The Northern Ireland boss added: "We have watched him play for his club Qarabag, we know this will be his first game for Azerbaijan and we respect his quality as a player.

"But in the game he will play against three midfielders who play in the Premier League against top Brazilians, Argentinians, Spanish and Italians every week - Steven Davis, Ollie Norwood and Chris Brunt.

"I also think it would be disrespectful to other Azerbaijan players to concentrate on Almeida as he's yet to play for the country.

"Two years ago I watched Qarabag against Celtic in the Champions League in Glasgow so I know the Azerbaijan players extremely well.

"They have good club European experience with Qarabag and Gabala playing in the group stages of the Europa League."

The Azeris, having been defeated in their last two qualifiers including a 4-0 loss in Belfast, are desperate for victory to keep their qualifying hopes alive.

Northern Ireland are determined to strengthen their grip on the vital second place in Group C behind runaway leaders Germany and strengthen hopes of reaching the finals in Russia next summer.

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