5 talking points ahead of Belarus v Northern Ireland
Michael O’Neill’s side have the chance to win four consecutive qualifying games at the start of a campaign for the first time.
Northern Ireland head to Borisov on Tuesday night to face Belarus in their fourth Euro 2020 qualifier.
Here Press Association Sport takes a look a five talking points head of the game.
Michael O’Neill: “The carrot is huge for us. To have 12 points from four games would put us in a strong position. That’s all the motivation the players need.” pic.twitter.com/ngnY9HZY28— Ian Parker (@iparkysport) June 10, 2019
For months Northern Ireland have spoken about the importance of taking maximum points from their first four qualifiers home and away to Estonia and Belarus, and Saturday’s come-from-behind win in Tallinn kept alive their chances of achieving it. Northern Ireland have never previously won four successive qualifiers to start a campaign but victory in Borisov could be key to their hopes of playing in Euro 2020. Win and they will sit nine points clear of the Dutch. Sure, Northern Ireland will have played two games more but Holland’s next qualifier is against Germany in Hamburg, and the pressure will all be on Ronald Koeman’s men.
O’Neill faced difficult choices when it came to his starting XI in Tallinn, with many members of his squad not playing competitive football for a full month before the match, with several others short of match fitness after struggling for playing time at their clubs. You could argue the first-half performance showed he got it wrong but what O’Neill has shown is his ability to pinpoint the problem and fix it with smart substitutions, both in this game and in March when Josh Magennis came off the bench to score the late winner against Belarus, just as he did in Tallinn.
Michael O’Neill: “The later kick-off with the hot weather here in Belarus is something the players will be pleased about and hopefully it will be something that will suit us.” #GAWA— Northern Ireland (@NorthernIreland) June 10, 2019
Temperatures in Tallinn over the weekend were unusually high, reaching 30 degrees during the day and still in the high 20s during Saturday’s match thanks to the late evening sun. Several of O’Neill’s players spoke of being physically drained after the game so they will be grateful for a late kick-off time on Tuesday. Although Borisov is due to enjoy similar temperatures during the day, the match will begin at 9.45pm local time, and the mercury should have dropped considerably. An extra factor for Northern Ireland to deal with, however, is travel. Due to limited accommodation, the team will stay in Minsk, a 75-minute bus trip away from the Borisov Arena.
A draining night in Tallinn will leave O’Neill with further selection headaches as he must find a balance between building on the momentum of a dramatic win with finding fresh legs in his squad. He is not short of options for freshening up the side, with the likes of Magennis, Jordan Jones and Corry Evans ready to come in if needed.
No joy for Belarus
Northern Ireland will be facing a Belarus team who have lost their opening three qualifiers, conceding eight goals in the process and scoring just one. That goal came in a 2-1 loss to Northern Ireland in Belfast in March, while they were routed 4-0 by the Dutch earlier this year and went down 2-0 to Germany at home on Saturday.