Northern Ireland face tough Euro qualifier test against Romania
Romania are odds-on favourites at 4/7 with Coral to crash Northern Ireland’s Euro 2016 party, to spoil their perfect, and best ever, start to a qualifying campaign.
The Green and White Army have a fantastic 100 per cent record so far, with three wins out of three on the long road to the France finals, and are 11/2 to extend that with another victory.
History is on their side, with the traveling team having defeated the Tricolorii in three of their previous four encounters. However, this buoyed Northern Ireland squad are suffering from some disappointing injury issues.
Influential skipper and Southampton midfielder Steven Davis is sidelined with a hamstring problem, after starting for his high-flying club against Leicester City last time out. Whilst the news is a significant blow, Michael O’Neill can now call on fit again West Bromwich Albion midfielder Chris Brunt.
Consistency appears to have been key for the visitors, who have fielded a stable spine throughout their last three clashes, so the loss of Derby County’s Jamie Ward, who netted against Greece, will also be a bane.
Norwich striker Kyle Lafferty (7/2 to be on target anytime) remains O’Neill’s most potent attacking weapon and biggest hope of stealing Romania’s scalp. The flying forward is his nation’s top scorer in qualifying, with three in his last three caps.
Manchester United’s injured Jonny Evans has missed the entire campaign so far, and may have to look over his shoulder after the solid performances of Aaron Hughes and Gareth McAuley. The defensive duo are 7/2 to assist Roy Carroll in keeping a third consecutive clean sheet, and 17/2 to help their nation win to nil .
Absent Evans’ young Red Devils clubmate Paddy McNair could also be set to feature and earn his first cap, whilst Rochdale’s Matthew Lund is a newcomer to the squad as well.
Group F leaders Northern Ireland have enjoyed a fairytale journey so far, but could now face their trickiest test in Bucharest.
Romania are eagerly snapping at their visitors heels, currently lying second in the pool, and will fancy their chances of at least picking up a draw (13/5) at the Arena Nationala.
The hosts have good reason to be confident, as they are also undefeated in qualifying. Returning Tricolorii coach Anghel Iordanescu, however, believes his side are underdogs heading into the encounter.
Speaking recently, the Romania boss, who is in his third stint in charge of his nation, said: “They are dangerous on the counter attack and from set-pieces. The match is extremely important, perhaps it’s the most important this year for us. It’s delicate because there are many problems.”
The home team’s top scorer in qualifying, Bogdan Stancu, who bagged a brace last time out, is 4/1 to score two or more again, and 7/2 to draw first blood.
Premier League fans will be able to keep an eye on Tottenham defender Vlad Chiriches, who has recently been linked with a surprise switch to north London rivals Arsenal, and Sunderland stopper Costel Pantilimon.
Former Manchester City custodian Pantilimon is currently benched for his country in favour of Fiorentina’s Ciprian Tatarusanu, who has kept a clean sheet in two of his last three caps, and he is odds-on at 3/4 to do so again.