Northern Ireland, who have enjoyed their best start to a qualifying campaign since 1968, face Greece in a Group F qualifier in Athens on Tuesday at 7.45pm.
Northern Ireland have enjoyed an excellent start to their qualifying campaign for the 2016 European Championships, with two wins from two in their opening games in Group F. They managed a sensational late comeback to claim all three points away to Hungary and while they were scarcely impressive in their 2-0 home win over the lowly Faroe Islands, they looked comfortable throughout.
However, sterner tests lay ahead for Micheal O’Neill’s men and it will massive challenge for the side to get something from their next game, away to Claudio Ranieri’s Greece.
The Greeks for their part are in desperate need of a win; they have only one point from their opening two games having slumped to a 1-0 defeat to Romania on their own patch and getting a 1-1 draw away to Finland. Ranieri admitted his charges were under pressure to deliver
“Our goal is to qualify. I said from the first day, if we don’t qualify, it is a disaster – for me, for everybody,” he said.
“It was important to get the first point, now we have to think about the next match.”
Meanwhile Northern Ireland can approach the game in a much more positive frame of mind; O’Neill speaking to the BBC after the win against the Faroes said
“We’re delighted to have six points and now we believe we can go and take something from Greece,” said O’Neill.
“We’ll give it a go and do everything possible to keep up the momentum we’ve generated from the opening two games.”
In terms of personnel West Bromwich Albion winger Chris Brunt probably won’t be able to make the trip to Greece after withdrawing from Saturday’s game. O’Neill however said he has the depth in his squad to cope with this setback.
“We might make a few changes but we have a relatively youthful squad who are full of energy” he said
The game kicks off at 7.45 on Tuesday, with the men in green bound to face a hostile atmosphere. Greece were forced to play their opener behind closed doors due to crowd trouble, but their fanatical fans are back for the next one ensuring a warm welcome to Athens for Northern Ireland.
Dan O’Mahony, Pundit Arena.