Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland set to play Slovenians in Euro warm-up

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland are set to play Slovenia in a friendly at Windsor Park on March 28 next year. The Easter Monday fixture in Belfast will be one of several build up games for Michael O'Neill's side ahead of the Euro 2016 finals in France, where they will face World Champions Germany, Poland and Ukraine.

O'Neill wants a minimum of four friendlies before the tournament kicks off in June and is content to play Slovenia, who have not qualified for the Euros.

The IFA expect to arrange another game in March, probably away from home, so that O'Neill's men are involved in a double header.

Northern Ireland will also play at least two other matches at the end of this season in May or June just before the Euro finals.

There have been suggestions that Belgium, Italy and Sweden would be interested in facing Northern Ireland and using the game as preparation for taking on the Republic of Ireland in Euro 2016.

The IFA aren't ruling anything out at this stage, but while a match up with Belgium or Italy may be possible, Sweden is considered a long shot.

Last month Northern Ireland ended their seven year wait for victory in a friendly when they beat Latvia 1-0 in Belfast with captain Steven Davis scoring the only goal of the game.

That result took the team's unbeaten record to EIGHT matches. The last time the country went on a run like that was back in the mid-80s under the legendary Billy Bingham.

O'Neill is keen to keep that trend going heading towards the European Championships and recent history suggests Northern Ireland have every chance given their record against Slovenia.

In four matches between the nations, Northern Ireland have won twice, drew once and lost just one with Nigel Worthington in charge each time.

The defeat came in the very first meeting when Slovenia won 2-0 in 2008 in a World Cup qualifier. In the same campaign Northern Ireland hit back in 2009 with a 1-0 success at Windsor with Warren Feeney on target.

A year later Worthington's side travelled to Maribor for their opening Euro 2012 qualifier and won with a second half Corry Evans strike. The corresponding fixture in 2011 was a scoreless draw.

Six of the players certain to go to France in O'Neill's squad started that night - Gareth McAuley, Craig Cathcart, Chris Baird, Chris Brunt, Jonny and Corry Evans.

Meanwhile after saying that Northern Ireland would be 'unpleasant' opponents in the Euro finals, Germany's World Cup winning coach Joachim Low has been talking about O'Neill's side again.

Low said: "Northern Ireland play in a style all their own - they have a unique brand of football.

"The players are physically strong, robust and fiercely competitive."

Belfast Telegraph