Euro 2016 qualifier: Northern Ireland contest closest rivals Romania
Northern Ireland have been on an impressive run of form so far in Euro 2016 qualifying, and Michael O’Neill’s men can take a huge step towards the finals in France with a victory over closest challengers Romania.
The hosts can move to 15 points in Group F and ahead of rivals Romania with a triumph over their latest opponents, with only four games left to play in the qualifying campaign for next summer’s tournament.
Confident Northern Ireland boss O’Neill believes a win on home soil at Windsor Park would see his side take a massive movement towards securing their place alongside the world’s leading footballing nations at the European competition (11/5 with Coral to triumph).
“Eighteen points is going to guarantee a top-three finish and a play-off place,” stated O’Neill. “But I think 18 points in our group may guarantee you automatic qualification.”
“If we can get to 15 points after this game, we’ve got four games to get the remaining three points which is a strong position to be in.”
With the group’s other contenders Finland and Hungary playing each other in this latest set of fixtures, this clash with Romania represents a great chance for the Windsor Park outfit to edge further ahead of at least one of their rivals (11/8 Romania win).
“We hope to get another two victories as soon as possible and Saturday night presents us with the first opportunity to do that,” continued O’Neill.
The hosts’ only slip up in qualifying so far came last November when they were toppled by the Romanians on a daunting trip abroad, but O’Neill has faith his players can secure a potentially decisive result.
“We’ll approach the game in a confident frame of mind and with optimism.
“It’s a game we will go to try and win although we know that it’s going to be a very difficult task because Romania are ranked 12th in the world.”
Veteran stopper Roy Carroll has been ruled out, meaning O’Neill must choose between uncapped Trevor Carson of Cheltenham Town and Michael McGovern of Scottish club Hamilton Academical to take up the vital position in goal. Even McGovern himself has only played three times at international level, with former Manchester United number one Carroll proving to be a key absence.
The pressure of this clash will undoubtedly be a heavy burden on the shoulders of Northern Ireland’s in-form squad, with the nation having not been involved in a major international tournament since the 1986 World Cup.
Kyle Lafferty has been in sublime form in front of goal, inspiring his country with five strikes in as many qualifying games, and the towering frontman is 6/1 to open proceedings, while fellow attacking threat Niall McGinn is 2/1 to net anytime.
For the group leaders, Paul Papp leads the way in their goalscoring charts with two strikes, with Bogdan Stancu also managing a double so far. Papp is a 7/1 chance to net again anytime, and clinical striker Stancu is 6/1 to get the final strike of the game.
With two of Northern Ireland’s final matches following this encounter with the Romanians coming at home, O’Neill will fancy his side’s chances of qualification, providing a victory can be secured this time out.