Belfast Telegraph

Latvia manager Marians Pahars excited for Northern Ireland battle

By Roy Kitson

Latvia boss Marians Pahars is relishing the chance to take on Northern Ireland as he begins preparations for his country's World Cup 2018 qualifying campaign.

The former Southampton hitman brings his men to Windsor Park on Friday after a frustrating Euro 2016 qualifying experience, with Latvia finishing bottom of Group A with no wins and just five points from 10 matches.

There were, however, encouraging performances with away draws against Kazakhstan (0-0) and the Czech Republic (1-1) as well as a 2-2 home draw with group winners Iceland.

Pahars, who was appointed Latvia boss in 2013, may swap information with counterpart Michael O'Neill as Romania and Hungary - both of whom Northern Ireland finished above in Euro qualifying - lie in wait on the route to Russia 2018, while the Green and White Army will face the Czech Republic.

Pahars said: "We are glad of the opportunity to play Northern Ireland. They will certainly be strong opponents, having finished top of their qualifying group ahead of Romania and Hungary - who we will play in the World Cup 2018 qualifiers.

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"Northern Ireland will be a good test for us as we prepare for the World Cup games and look to find consistency. The game will also be useful to our opponents on Friday, because they will be playing against the Czech Republic."

Pahars, who played for Latvia in the Euro 2004 finals in Portugal, still keeps in touch with English football after his successful stint with the Saints from 1999-2006.

He believes it is only a matter of time before every team from the British Isles qualifies for the Euro finals.

He added: "The game with Northern Ireland is also interesting because we will be playing a British-style team.

"I believe all the British Isle teams will qualify for the European Championship finals in the near future. With the English Premier League's top-level footballers in their teams, I think it goes without saying that they all have the potential to reach the final stages of big tournaments.

"It is essential that our players learn to play opponents with a different style. We will have such a valuable opportunity on Friday."

Belfast Telegraph