Belfast Telegraph

Five talking points ahead of Northern Ireland's Euro 2020 qualifier against the Netherlands

Northern Ireland's Josh Magennis is expected to lead the line in Rotterdam.
Northern Ireland's Josh Magennis is expected to lead the line in Rotterdam.

Michael O'Neill's Northern Ireland head into their Euro 2020 qualifier in the Netherlands tonight sitting in second spot in Group D.

Here we take a look at some of the talking points surrounding the game in Rotterdam:

1. No Laff-ing matter

What boss Michael O'Neill would give for an in-form Kyle Lafferty at the moment. Northern Ireland have never lost when Lafferty has found the back of the net for his country. Problem is, the Kesh-born hitman hasn't hit the ground running at new club Sarpsborg in Norway and the last time he scored for Northern Ireland was just under three years ago - 712 minutes and 16 games.

With striker Conor Washington out injured and the men in green up against a world class defensive line in Virgil Van Dijk and Matthijs de Ligt, O'Neill must decide between the physical presence of Josh Magennis or Burton's Liam Boyce, who can bring midfielders into the attack.

Then in the second half, if there needs to be an injection of pace, O'Neill as he showed against Germany, would not be afraid to throw on Linfield's livewire Shayne Lavery.

2. Defensive dilemma

Along with a selection quandary over who will lead Northern Ireland's line, manager Michael O'Neill must decide who will replace injured Jamal Lewis at left back and whether winger Gavin Whyte is given his chance to start ahead of Niall McGinn.

Norwich City's rising star Lewis will be a huge loss with his attacking threat down the channel and ever improving defensive game. Millwall's Shane Ferguson could slip straight into that position or O'Neill may opt to move Stuart Dallas across to the left with Hearts' Michael Smith reclaiming his place at right.

Whyte, who took the game to the Germans when he came on last month at Windsor Park, is itching to start on the right wing, which would see the experienced McGinn benched.

3. Rotterdam or anywhere

Northern Ireland will have their largest support for an away qualifier in over 12 years. Around 3,500 members of the Green and White Army have travelled to the Dutch port of Rotterdam for tonight's match.

Excluding the Euro 2016 finals in France, Northern Ireland haven't had this huge number of supporters cheering them on away from home since Gran Canaria in 2007 when Nigel Worthington's men were attempting to reach the 2008 Euro finals. The Northern Ireland fans though will not be congregated in one area. Rather they are in different sections throughout the De Kuip stadium. There should be some atmosphere with the charismatic Dutch fans bringing colour and noise to proceedings too.

4. A Dutch resurgence

After four years of being in the doldrums, when the Netherlands missed out on qualification for the Euro 2016 finals and 2018 World Cup, there is an expectancy and excitement amongst Dutch fans again.

The Netherlands are back to being a major force on the international stage. Their passionate supporters, who will turn De Kuip stadium tonight into a orange fortress, are greatly enthused about the 'chemistry' and 'winning mentality' boss Ronald Koeman has brought to the national team.

The Netherlands are solid all over the park but in particular they have a great 'spine' with Frenkie de Jong a crucial player between defence and attack.

They have pace, flair, wonderful creativity and are a joy to watch. At training yesterday, despite pressure on their shoulders to deliver, they appeared relaxed and focussed on the job in hand. An ominous warning for Northern Ireland.

5. NI have a point to prove

Northern Ireland desperately need at least at least a draw in Rotterdam tonight to keep their automatic Euro 2020 qualifying hopes alive. But this will be without doubt the toughest match of the campaign so far as the Netherlands attempt to make it an all out battle with Germany for top spot in Group C.

The Netherlands have only failed to score in two of their last 16 games under boss Ronald Koeman while Manchester United flop Memphis Depay has found the net 12 times in his last 20 internationals.

The Netherlands were in rampant goalscoring form the last time Northern Ireland played on Dutch soil in 2012 - winning 6-0. But the friendly, just Michael O'Neill's second game in charge, was hit by a huge number of Northern Ireland withdrawals and he was forced to play a makeshift team. The only current squad members who played in that game were Shane Ferguson and Niall McGinn.

Belfast Telegraph


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