Five down three to go. Northern Ireland’s run of wins came to a frustrating end against Germany in Belfast last month. With three games to go and the Netherlands just three points behind, can Northern Ireland make it to their second consecutive European Championship?
Despite a roaring start in the group, qualification is a difficult start for Michael O’Neil’s men. With an inferior goal difference to both Germany and the Netherlands the situation looks dire. The men in green will need a major result in Rotterdam to keep their qualification hopes alive.
Northern Ireland however will take confidence from their home showing against Germany. A strong counter-attacking first-half performance could conceivably have seen the side leading 2 – 0 at half time. A volley from a tight angle by German left-back Marcel Halstenberg dented Northern Irish hopes. After a plucky second-half Serge Gnabry killed the game with an injury time strike. Northern Ireland will know of the need to be clinical against the big sides. With a formidable Dutch defensive duo of Virgil Van Dijk and Matthijs de Ligt, whomever leads the line must convert any chances they earn.
Northern Ireland look to have a future star on their hands with Peacock-Farrell. After strong home and away displays against Estonia and Belarus, the 22-year-old proved himself against Germany last time out. Despite consceding twice, Peacock-Farrell’s battle against RB Leipzig forward Timo Werner will live on in the memory of the GAWA. The ‘keeper will need to repeat these heroics and then some on Thursday night if Northern Ireland are to stand a chance of getting a result. A lack of first-team club football is a concern for Peacock-Farrell, but thus far it has not deterred him from making excellent performances on the international stage.
A versatile and reliable figure for both club and country, Stuart Dallas may be expected to deputize at left-back for the injured Jamal Lewis on Thursday night. With a relentless engine and ability in defence and attack marks Dallas out as a key man for Northern Ireland. Defending on his weaker foot may prove an issue for the former Crusaders man. His likely area however is one of inconsistency for the Dutch. Coach Roanld Koeman is yet to settle on his preferred option at right-wing. Alternating between Quincy Promes, Steven Bergwijn and Donyell Malen, inconsistency may favour Dallas.
Always a key player for Northern Ireland. Now entering the twilight of his career at thirty-four, midfield general Steven Davis will be keen to utilise his experience and drag Northern Ireland to another major championship. A regular return to domestic action with Rangers will (hopefully) see the captain maintain his high standards. When faced with perhaps Europe’s best midfield, Davis will must perform to his own level while also inspiring those around him.
With great energy and enthusiasm, Josh Magennis has become a cult figure among the GAWA. His relentless running and presence in the final third will be crucial to Northern Ireland’s fortunes in Rotterdam. If the striker can unsettle the Dutch centre-back duo or use his pace in behind, Northern Ireland can prove to be a threat on the night. Magennis has scored two goals in qualifying this campaign already. He will be desperate to add to his tally in this high-profile occasion.
There are no easy games left for Northern Ireland. An away trip to the Netherlands may be the most formidable. O’Neil, knowing a draw would be a favorable result will look to create a strong defensive foundation for the game. If Northern Ireland can cut the passing lanes to the Dutch front three they may stand a chance in Rotterdam. Big ‘ifs’ here, but we can be hopeful.
For more coverage of local and international football visit our blog.
Toals are the proud betting partner of the Northern Ireland football team.