Belfast Telegraph

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Craigan insists Northern Ireland will rise to occasion and make play-offs


By Graham Luney

Former Northern Ireland favourite Stephen Craigan is confident Michael O'Neill and his men will be toasting a very special achievement at Windsor Park tonight. The hosts need a point against Czech Republic to seal second place and a likely World Cup play-off spot.

Northern Ireland are aiming to qualify for a second successive major tournament and former defender Craigan has been particularly impressed with the team's defensive record of six clean sheets in seven qualifiers.

Confidence remains high in the camp after Friday night's 3-0 victory in San Marino and O'Neill's team are now seven points clear of the third-placed Czechs with three qualifiers left.

"The boys were terrific, a joy to watch," said Craigan, who earned 52 caps and was in Belfast at the weekend watching his Motherwell Under-20 side lose 3-2 to Crusaders in the IRN BRU Cup.

"We sat in the room at the hotel and we had the Scotland game on the big screen but I watched the Northern Ireland game on the iPad. They looked so comfortable and commanding, never in danger or under threat - no one panicked. It is the sign of a good team. They can do the business on Monday night, they have done it before and they can do it again. I have total faith in them."

Craigan was proud of his Under-20 side who fought back from 1-0 down against the Crues to lead 2-1 before a late Billy Joe Burns brace settled the cup tie at Seaview.

"We can make better decisions and that's what these games are like," he added.

"Young players must learn to make better decisions on the ball and they will take so much from this.

"We had some 17-year-olds out there but they showed guts. We had a go at them and I'm not surprised because they have character and if they want to succeed they must respond to these types of tests."

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