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David Healy

Who starts up front could be the most important call Baraclough makes for Slovakia clash

David Healy


Northern Ireland striker Josh Magennis could have a fight on his hands to start Thursday's Euro 2020 play-off final

Northern Ireland striker Josh Magennis could have a fight on his hands to start Thursday's Euro 2020 play-off final

William Cherry/Presseye

Northern Ireland striker Josh Magennis could have a fight on his hands to start Thursday's Euro 2020 play-off final

Northern Ireland's players have the chance to write themselves a little bit of football history in Thursday night's winner-takes-all Euro showdown with Slovakia at Windsor Park.

It's one of the biggest games we've been involved in for a long time. It's just a pity there will not be a full house of 18,000 fans, the place would have been rocking.

That said, motivation shouldn't be an issue for the players. The carrot dangling in front of them of qualifying for the European Finals is all they need in terms of motivation to get over the line.

It shouldn't really matter if there are 1,000 supporters or 18,000, the players need to prepare in the proper manner.

They have played enough games behind closed doors, whether it be in their own Leagues or international matches. They should now be accustomed to it.

There should be no excuses. Ian Baraclough will have them well prepared and they approach the game on the back of a positive result against Bosnia.

If there is a negative, it is that Slovakia have changed their manager recently. That could work either way. The new boss could come in and be completely up against it, or he could bring a freshness and a new approach. If the players buy into it, we may see a different Slovakian team than the one that has struggled in their last few games.

Baraclough will probably have his starting XI in his head. He has a big call to make in terms of who he goes with up front.

The manager will get a feel for it when the players meet up today - he will sense who is best equipped.

Josh Magennis and Conor Washington have probably played more than the rest and could be the answer.

I know Liam Boyce hit the decisive penalty kick against Bosnia, but I don't think he will be in the starting line-up, while Kyle Lafferty has not scored for some time but he has a proven record.

It's going to be difficult for the manager, but he'll assess the players when they come out of the League games over the weekend. He should get a feel for what system will give him the best opportunity to win on Thursday night.

Ian will assess the strengths and weaknesses of the Slovakian back four and he'll hopefully pick the right players to get the result the country not only wants, but needs at the minute because it's been a tough time for everyone.

He'll load the players with information that he feels can win them the game. It will then be down to them to write themselves into the record books.

The team that reached the 2016 Euros is still talked about. Even further back, the boys who qualified for the 1982 and 1986 World Cups are still held in the highest esteem. This current crop of boys now have the chance to claim their own little piece of history by qualifying for back-to-back European Championships.

It's also great to see so many former Irish League players in the squad. It's vital for the development of our game over here to see the likes of Dallas, Smith, Whyte, Boyce and McGinn play such a prominent part.

Dallas is the prime example. He is playing at the top level at a top club. He has come through the junior ranks over here and through the Irish League. He has been a credit to his country.

He never puts a foot wrong, whether he's playing for Northern Ireland or Leeds United. If he has a good game, he's probably an eight or nine - if he has an off day, he is probably a seven. That's the level of consistency he shows.

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