Belfast Telegraph

Faroe Islands v Northern Ireland: Colin Clarke says we should embrace favourites tag

Euro 2016 qualifying Group F: Friday 4 September, 7.45pm, Torshavn

By Chris Tait

Former Northern Ireland striker Colin Clarke has challenged the national team to show why they are the favourites in the Faroe Islands tonight and avoid an unwanted Euro 2016 qualification slip-up.

Michael O'Neill's side are currently second in Group F ahead of a double-header against the Faroes and Hungary.

The national team have performed valiantly in the campaign so far but will be expected to ease to victory tonight in Torshavn.

Clarke was on hand to ensure a simple triumph over the minnows during the 1992 European Championship qualifying campaign, netting a hat-trick during a 5-0 rout for Northern Ireland.

But the former forward, who is now head coach at US side Carolina Railhawks, has warned that those now preparing to pull on the green jersey must first handle the expectation if they are to make sure of another three points.

"We have the Faroe Islands and we can't take them lightly as the pressure is going to be on Northern Ireland," said Clarke, who was a member of the last Northern Ireland squad to compete at the finals of a major competition, the World Cup in 1986.

"That is something which they haven't really faced before - Northern Ireland have always been the underdogs.

"There is still a long way to go but you would love to be in the position they are in.

"It has so far been very good. We would have loved a win (against Romania) but it was probably a fair result at the end of the day.

"They are in a great spot - Hungary have got to play Romania, the other teams have to play each other, and Northern Ireland still have this game with the Faroe Islands.

"So it is in their hands and if they can keep it going and keep the nerves from cracking, then they have a great chance.

"They have climbed back up the rankings and, although I wouldn't call it a favourable draw, it is a good group to be in.

"I fancied their chances if they got off to a good start and built up some confidence, which they did. They seem to have a good, settled squad that can see the prize. It's a big one and I think they'll make it."

That encouraging qualification form has been maintained largely thanks to the scoring streak enjoyed by Kyle Lafferty, with the striker having netted five times in this campaign.

The 27-year-old faces an uncertain future with club side Norwich City having spent part of last season on loan at Turkish outfit Çaykur Rizespor, but Clarke is convinced that the front man will remain a potent threat for his country.

"I think what they always needed was someone to score goals," said the 52-year-old, who was once Northern Ireland's all-time leading goalscorer with a tally of 13.

"You can't win if you don't. You can be defensively organised but if you are not going to score then that makes it tough, and right now Lafferty is on a hot streak."

Belfast Telegraph