Belfast Telegraph

Moutinho worried ahead of Portugal's visit to Northern Ireland

By Steven Beacom

Portugal midfielder Joao Moutinho has stated that Northern Ireland's shock victory over Russia last month should serve as a timely warning to his team.

While wise not to underestimate Michael O'Neill's side, the Monaco star has perhaps got his wires crossed in relation to the system that the visitors will be facing in tomorrow night's World Cup qualifier. Ahead of Portugal flying in to Belfast today, Moutinho insisted that Portugal must avoid matching Northern Ireland's 'direct, physical game'.

Given that since his appointment, O'Neill has encouraged his team to get the ball down and play constructive football, Moutinho might be surprised at Windsor.

The 59 times capped star said: “The game in Belfast is one which we will be going all out to win but Northern Ireland's victory against Russia last month has given us a timely warning of the task ahead of us.

“We know that Northern Ireland are difficult opponents with fantastic team spirit — they play a direct, physical game, and have a tremendous support behind them.

“If we try to match that type of game, it will be fatal as our opponents are more accustomed to playing that way, and they will get the better of us. We can't afford to let that happen.

“We have to play to our strengths, playing the ball on the ground, and moving it quickly from defence to attack.”

Moutinho, who moved to Monaco in a big money summer transfer from Porto, added: “We have of course already played against teams who play in Northern Ireland's style, and we have beaten them, but I believe that the game in Belfast will demand a little more from our players in physical terms and we want to do better than in the game last October in Porto when we were held to a 1-1 draw.

“That is a result which we do not want to repeat, but we mustn't approach the game with a sense of revenge. We are analysing that match, and we know where we went wrong and what mistakes we made.”

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