Thursday, 7 October 2010

Faroes trip a must win for Northern Ireland but anything against Italy is a bonus.

If pride comes before a fall Northern Ireland fans are teetering on the brink ahead of their team’s European Championship qualifier with Italy.  The last time such dizzy optimism infected the Green and White Army a new campaign was starting at Windsor Park, with Lawrie Sanchez’ men fresh from beating England the previous season.  The result?  A 3-0 mauling at the hands of Iceland.

The circumstances are slightly different this time.  Northern Ireland has already got this set of qualifiers up and running with an unlikely away win in Slovenia.  So 3 points are already on the board.  And the Italians comprise precisely the type of opposition which the Windsor roar has a habit of unsettling.

These portents have persuaded some supporters that Italy’s scalp will inevitably be added to those of illustrious predecessors like Spain and England.  It will surprise no-one to learn that I‘m not so certain.

Tomorrow evening has all the incipient ingredients of a damp squib.  Over-confidence, wounded opposition and a likely sense of anti-climax, should things not immediately go Northern Ireland’s way.

After their disastrous World Cup performance in South Africa, under a new manager and bereft of stellar names, the Italians are unlikely to be complacent.  Indeed Nigel Worthington’s squad are just as likely to be infected by that vice, as they showed against Slovakia in the previous campaign.

In Pirlo, Italy has a potent playmaker who Northern Ireland must take care to shackle from the earliest stages.  Chris Baird would be the natural choice to perform that role.

Up front, our best chance of a goal might be Kyle Lafferty, who has run into some form at Rangers.  If he can’t unlock the Italian defence, it will be up to midfielders like Davis and Brunt to produce a rare moment of magic.

The truth is that, should Italy win the game, as they probably will, it is not a disaster for Northern Ireland.  We shouldn’t expect to beat the top ranked teams.  The acid test is the Faroe Islands on Tuesday.  Anything less than a win there will be a disaster for Worthington.  And history shows that it is precisely the type of game which can trip us up.

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