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Northern Ireland stars will get into the groove despite heavy Norway defeat, insists hopeful boss Baraclough


Stepping up: Ian Baraclough expects his NI players to be in better condition for Bosnia trip

Stepping up: Ian Baraclough expects his NI players to be in better condition for Bosnia trip

Stepping up: Ian Baraclough expects his NI players to be in better condition for Bosnia trip

Northern Ireland boss Ian Baraclough has offered hope to the Green and White Army, claiming that his team will be in a stronger condition to defend better in next month's Euro 2020 play-off semi-final in Bosnia than they were against Norway earlier this week.

The Norwegians, inspired by striking sensation Erling Haaland, trounced Northern Ireland 5-1 at Windsor Park in Monday night's Nations League encounter, leaving some fans fearing the worst ahead of the crunch clash with Bosnia and Herzegovina in October.

Baraclough hopes Jonny Evans and Jamal Lewis will return to bolster the defence but also insists his players will be physically fitter when the match with Edin Dzeko and co comes around.

"We will take the Norway result on the chin and take our medicine. Not too many times will you come up against a strikeforce like that," said Baraclough.

"We will come back in a few weeks' time and the players will have played more competitive games, they will have had more training under their belt and will be far better conditioned.

"When our players are in a different condition it gives them a better chance to defend better.

"The Norway goals may not have happened in normal circumstances."

While disappointed to lose so heavily in his first home match in charge, Baraclough was gracious enough to pay tribute to 20-year-old Borussia Dortmund star Haaland whose two goals and explosive performance ripped Northern Ireland apart.

"He's got pace, power, he's left-footed and right-footed. The chance that he took with his left foot and put it in the top corner I was right behind that and Bailey Peacock-Farrell had no chance," said Baraclough.

"He still has to learn his trade with certain things but Real Madrid and Barcelona will all be clamouring for his signature. He won't go for anything less than £100m.

"People are talking about him being in the same mould as Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi. He's only 20 and it looks good for Norwegian football in that respect.

"To watch players like that in full flow, it is tough to be the opposing manager on the end of it but at times you have to applaud the decision making and the finishing because it was top drawer."

Experienced Norway boss Lars Lagerback is certain that Haaland will become the nation's best striker ever.

"When you are talking about Norway, I think so. If you look at him now when it comes to the final third of the pitch he is high class already," said Lagerback.

"With the other part of his play linking into the game with the team, I think he can learn a little bit but I don't think that is so important because when you have a striker like that you want to use him in the final third.

"I think he is top class even though he is young and he can be even better. He has everything, he has a good head, he has a good mentality, he is big and strong and is fast and he has a good left foot."

Asked if he felt Haaland would end up in the Premier League, Lagerback replied: "It's a lot of money and money talks in this business.

"It's not a bad guess that some of the bigger clubs would like to get him."

The former Sweden manager also had some words for Northern Ireland skipper Steven Davis, who joined Pat Jennings on 119 caps on Monday to jointly become his country's most capped footballer.

"It is almost unbelievable in my opinion. I have seen him play but I don't know him personally but he must be a really good personality and mentally strong," said Lagerback.

"I have a fantastic amount of respect for him and always when I have seen him and played against him he has worked hard for the team."

He added that Northern Ireland missing Leicester centre-back Evans was a key factor in the game.

"I know him maybe best of all the Northern Ireland players and I know his skills from when he played at Manchester United and now at Leicester and also in the national team. I can't say I was feeling sorry for our team when he wasn't on the team sheet."

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland international and Glentoran ace Emma McMaster will miss the rest of the season after having surgery on a knee injury.

Belfast Telegraph