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Release Date: 16/10/2012

Author: Marshall Gillespie

NORTHERN Irelandís preparations for Tuesday eveningís mouth-watering World Cup Qualifying encounter in Portugal have been hampered by the absence, for a variety of reasons, of no fewer than 10 players.

Manager Michael O’Neill was already resigned to being without West Brom’s Gareth McAuley through suspension after the former Crusaders man picked up a harsh second yellow card of the series against Luxembourg last month.

However, O’Neill has now had to contend with the loss through injury of Chris Brunt (groin), Shane Ferguson (hip), Jamie Ward (hamstring), Grant McCann (knee), Alex Bruce (groin), James McPake (achillies), Joe Dudgeon (knee) and Martin Paterson who is suffering from on-going injury concerns.

Add to that the unavailability of Lee Camp and Sammy Clingan, who is still seeking to find a club after being released by Coventry City at the end of last season and it easy to see why Portugal, ranked third in the current FIFA rankings, will start as clear favourites.

Goalkeeper Roy Carroll, who at 35 is currently enjoying a new lease of life with Greek champions Olympiakos, is aware the huge task a depleted Northern Ireland face, not only because of the amount of injuries but also the fact that they have to lift themselves up following the disappointing home draw with Luxembourg, a game everyone was hoping for three points from. 

“Everyone was naturally very down after the Luxembourg match,” said Roy, who made 72 appearances during a four year spell at Manchester United. “I thought we played really well in the first half and fell away in the second culminating in them getting what I felt was an undeserved equaliser.

“We now though have a chance to redeem ourselves though. Coming to Portugal and hoping to get a positive result will be a tough test for us as they have so many quality players in their side, but if you can’t lift yourself up to play against quality players like Ronaldo and Nani then there is something seriously wrong.”

Despite the high number of withdrawals, O’Neill still has experienced Premiership performers at his disposal in the shape of former skipper Aaron Hughes, Jonny Evans, Chris Baird and current captain Steven Davis, all of whom should start in Porto.

There may also be a place too for 21-year-old central midfielder Oliver Norwood who has been a revelation for Huddersfield Town in the Championship since joining them from Manchester United in the summer.

In attack Kyle Lafferty looks a certainty to play a lone role up front as Northern Ireland look set to flood the midfield to try and nullify the attacking threat of the Portugese.

Tuesday will be a landmark occasion for Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo as if he plays against ‘Our Wee Country’ he will be winning his 100th International cap, a tremendous achievement especially as he is still only 27!

Portugal may have one of the best players in the world in Ronaldo, but Paulo Bento’s team have so far made a stuttering start to their qualifying campaign and seem to be suffering from hangover following their Euro 2012 semi-final penalty shoot-out exit to eventual winners Spain.

Their opening contest saw them go a goal down in Luxembourg before finally securing a 2-1 victory and only two goals in the last five minutes gave them a somewhat flattering 3-0 home success over Azerbaijan, while a 1-0 defeat was suffered last Friday in Moscow to a Russia team that now head Group F with a maximum nine points from their first three games.

The current form and rankings of the two countries would suggest a comfortable Portugal victory, however, Michael O’Neill knows leaving Porto with even a point would leave Northern Ireland looking ahead to next month’s contest versus Azerbaijan with renewed hope and confidence in what has been a disappointing start to their quest to reach the 2014 Finals in Brazil.


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  • Dragao Stadium, Porto.

    Dragao Stadium, Porto.

  • pre Portugal - oct 2012

    The Northern Ireland squad pictured during training on Monday evening at the Dragao Stadium, Porto.

    Picture: William Cherry / Press Eye

  • pre Portugal - oct 2012

    Northern Ireland goalkeeper Roy Carroll pictured during a team training session in Portugal.

    Picture: William Cherry / Press Eye

  • pre Portugal - oct 2012

    Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty pictured during training at the Dragao Stadium.

    Picture: William Cherry / Press Eye

  • pre Portugal - oct 2012

    Northern Ireland's Jonny Evans pictured during the team's training session at the Dragao Stadium, Porto on Monday evening.

    Picture: William Cherry / Press Eye

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