Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland need a glamour clash en route to Euro 2016 finals

By Steven Beacom

The Irish FA are planning to bring big name opposition to play Northern Ireland at Windsor Park before the Euro 2016 finals.

Fans were somewhat underwhelmed earlier this week when it was announced that Michael O'Neill's side would host Latvia in a friendly on November 13.

It is worth pointing out, though, that many of the more glamorous nations in Europe had already arranged games for next month's international break, leaving the IFA with slim pickings.

After O'Neill's men drew 1-1 in Finland earlier this month to qualify as table toppers from Group F, the word from the IFA was that Iceland, who also qualified for France, would be the opposition in November. That fixture never materialised because Iceland arranged other friendlies.

In contrast Latvia, who finished bottom of their Euro group, were willing to come to Windsor.

The IFA have a point when they say the Friday 13th friendly will be a chance for supporters to celebrate the stunning achievements of O'Neill's team, but the Association also know there will be an expectancy to bring more attractive opposition to Belfast in the first half of next year, especially given that the home World Cup qualifiers on October 8 and November 11 are against San Marino and Azerbaijan respectively!

The first international date in 2016 is in March. After that O'Neill is likely to want two more games between the end of the club season in May and when the tournament begins on June 10 so his players are primed for the big kick-off in France.

At least one of those friendlies will be at Windsor when a so called 'sexy' nation will be targeted.

The IFA feel they will be in a stronger position to negotiate with other countries after the draw for the Euro 2016 groups is made in Paris on December 12.

They would be stronger still if they asked former Fifa vice-president Jim Boyce to use his influence and contacts around the globe.

Belfast Telegraph