Belfast Telegraph

Taylor-made for a battle

By Paul Ferguson

If Northern Ireland are to cause an almighty upset tonight against Group F leaders Sweden then don't expect it to be pretty.

In fact it could be extremely ugly.

For top goalkeeper Maik Taylor insists Nigel Worthington's men will adopt an ultra cautious approach as they attempt to beat the mighty Swedes for the second time in this campaign.

Taylor, who will join Martin O'Neill tonight as our country's ninth most capped player when he wins his 64th cap, believes it is imperative that we don't concede an early goal, keep it tight and don't be too adventurous.

He said: "We can't go all gung-ho and look for the win in the early part of the game.

"We have to be very resilient and every player needs to stick to their jobs and tasks.

"We are under no illusions about how difficult it is going to be. We need to try and stay in the game for as long as we can.

"If we need to start chasing a goal later on in the game then I'm sure we'll take a few more risks.

"If we don't concede an early goal then who knows? Later on in the game it may open up a bit. They'll be looking to take all three points from this game and qualify.

"But hopefully we can go out there and give a good account of ourselves and spoil the party."

Northern Ireland boss Worthington will be forced to make three changes to his defence that played in the defeats to Latvia and Iceland last month.

Stephen Craigan and returning skipper Aaron Hughes will resume their positions in the heart of Northern Ireland's defence in place of the injured Michael Duff and suspended Chris Baird while Leicester City's Gareth McAuley will make his competitive debut at right back and George McCartney keeps his place on the left side of defence.

Taylor adds: "It's great that Aaron his back. He and Stevie have built up a really good partnership in the middle. Obviously George is playing at the top level in the Premiership and this game will be a good opportunity for Gareth coming in at right back."

Sweden coach Lars Lagerback will have towering centre forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic back to his lead his front line after the Inter Milan star served a one man suspension.

Amazingly, Ibrahimovic, who is considered Sweden's most feared player, has not registered a goal in this campaign although he has hit the back of the net on 18 occasions for his country.

Taylor says: "Ibrahimovic is a world-class player and he gave us plenty of problems when we played Sweden at Windsor Park.

"We know all about him - so we'll just do our best and get bodies in and around him. The way they play to him is very direct and they are looking for him all the time.

"But he's not the only one we need to keep an eye on. The table doesn't lie, Sweden have had an exceptional campaign so far and it's going to be extremely difficult for us against their big players who are a handful from set pieces. "

Taylor is back to his best form with Birmingham City but at 36 he realises this may be his last chance of qualifying for a major international tournament.

Northern Ireland are six points behind Sweden and Spain with only three games remaining in this qualifying series.

"We've left ourselves a mountain to climb but the shackles are off," admits Taylor.

"We're certainly underdogs going into all three games so the pressure is off. We can enjoy it and it seems in those conditions that's when we play our best football.

Hopefully that'll be the case tonight."

Belfast Telegraph


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