Belfast Telegraph

Duff out for season

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland today suffered a big blow when it emerged that defender Michael Duff has been ruled out of the remaining European Championship qualifiers.

Indeed Duff is out for the rest of the season after sustaining a horrific leg injury.

The Burnley defender snapped his cruciate ligament against Crystal Palace at the weekend and faces a long lay-off.

Duff played for Northern Ireland against Latvia and Iceland last month.

In both those games Nigel Worthington's team were defeated meaning that Northern Ireland's hopes of reaching the Euro 2008 finals went from good to very slim, especially given that the final three games are against Sweden and Spain away from home and Denmark at Windsor Park.

Duff will miss all of those games and many more.

Burnley boss Steve Cotterill said: "It's a big, big blow for us.

"Michael had an operation on Tuesday. I haven't had a chance to speak to him yet because he has been under anaesthetic, but I will catch up with him as soon as possible. "

Duff's absence may mean a return to the team for Motherwell's Stephen Craigan, who was surprisingly left out of both games last month - a decision that saw Worthington heavily criticised.

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