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Northern Ireland to open World Cup qualifying campaign away to four-time world champions Italy


Northern Ireland's Stephen Carson combats Italy's Gennaro Gattuso in 2009

Northern Ireland's Stephen Carson combats Italy's Gennaro Gattuso in 2009

Northern Ireland's Stephen Carson combats Italy's Gennaro Gattuso in 2009

Northern Ireland will open and close their qualifying campaign for the 2022 World Cup against four-time world champions Italy.

Ian Baraclough's side will travel to Italy in their opening fixture on March 25 before concluding their qualifiers at Windsor Park against the same opponents on November 15.

Perhaps the game that Northern Ireland fans will most be looking forward to, the rematch with Switzerland at Windsor Park, is slated to be their fourth fixture on September 8.

It will be the first meeting between the two sides since their controversial play-off for the 2018 World Cup, which the Swiss triumphed in 1-0 thanks to a controversial penalty given against Corry Evans.

After starting the group stage against Italy - at a venue still to be determined - Baraclough's charges will welcome Bulgaria to Windsor Park on March 31 in round two.

The Swiss tie in Belfast is the second part of their second double-header, coming six days after they travel to Vilnius to take on Lithuania on September 2.

The return tie against Switzerland, again at a venue to be determined, will take place on October 9, with Northern Ireland playing back-to-back away games in their third double-header when they travel to Sofia to face Bulgaria on October 12.

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The nation finish with a home double-header, which could work in their favour if they are in with a chance of qualifying, with lowest ranked Lithuania visiting Belfast on November 12.

That is followed by their final game against group favourites Italy three days later, with Roberto Mancini's side hopeful they will have wrapped up top spot by that stage.

Only the group winners will qualify automatically for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, with the runners-up going into the play-offs for one of the extra UEFA spots on offer.

Northern Ireland's 2022 World Cup qualifying fixtures

March 25: Italy vs Northern Ireland (TBD)

March 31: Northern Ireland v Bulgaria (Windsor Park, Belfast)

September 2: Lithuania v Northern Ireland (LFF Stadium, Vilnius)

September 8: Northern Ireland v Switzerland (Windsor Park, Belfast)

October 9: Switzerland v Northern Ireland (TBD)

October 12: Bulgaria v Northern Ireland (Vasil Levski National Stadium, Sofia)

November 12: Northern Ireland v Lithuania (Windsor Park, Belfast)

November 15: Northern Ireland v Italy (Windsor Park, Belfast)