Northern Ireland - Azerbaijan Preview: Michael O'Neill's men look to build on Portugal point
The Green and White army picked up an incredible result against Ronaldo & Co last month but must stay grounded for key clash against one of Group F's whipping boys
By Tom Marshall-Bailey
Hughes, Cathcart, McAuley, McGivern
Davis, C Evans, Baird, Brunt
Abisov, Levin, Sukurov, Medvedev
Mamadov, Sadigov, Certoqanov, Huseynov
Peterborough midfielder Grant McCann has withdrawn from the squad for personal reasons. The 32-year-old's wife is set to give birth and he has returned home, ruling himself out of Wednesday's key clash.
McCann is the fifth player to drop out of Michael O'Neill's original 24-man squad after injuries to Manchester United defender Jonny Evans (groin), Hull City's Alex Bruce (knee) and forwards Andy Little (foot) and Jamie Ward (hamstring).
O'Neill responded to Ward's departure by calling up uncapped Inverness striker Billy McKay and has also added Liverpool prodigy Ryan McLaughlin and Burnley full-back Danny Lafferty to the squad.
West Brom centre-half Gareth McAuley returns from suspension while Chris Brunt and Shane Ferguson return from injury.
Meanwhile, Berti Vogts, Azerbaijan’s German head coach, has included no fewer than five uncapped players in his squad for Belfast.
|DID YOU KNOW?|
- Niall McGinn scored his first goal for Northern Ireland at the 19th attempt, when they held Portugal to a 1-1 draw last month.
- McGinn (pictured right) has started only nine games, with his other 10 caps earned off the bench. The Donaghmore-born midfielder has also been an unused substitute on a further six occasions.
- The draw in Porto was Northern Ireland’s 100th stalemate in competitive matches.
- Out of a total of 466 competitive games, the Green and White Army have won 116 and lost 250, scoring 503 goals and conceding 952.
- Azerbaijan head coach Berti Vogts took charge of 102 German international games and won 66, a success rate of almost 65 per cent.
- The two sides have faced each other just twice, the first meeting in 2004 was a 0-0 draw, while Northern Ireland won their second encounter, in September 2005, 2-0.
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Top 3 Predictions
Northern Ireland 0-1 Azerbaijan
- 19.18 %
Northern Ireland 2-6 Azerbaijan
- 10.96 %
Northern Ireland 2-0 Azerbaijan
- 9.59 %
|World Cup Qualification 2014 (Europe) (WCQE)||11 Oct 2013||Azerbaijan 2 - Northern Ireland 0|
|World Cup Qualification 2014 (Europe) (WCQE)||14 Nov 2012||Northern Ireland 1 - Azerbaijan 1|
|15 Nov 2013||Turkey 1 - Northern Ireland 0||FR|
|15 Oct 2013||Israel 1 - Northern Ireland 1||WCQE|
|11 Oct 2013||Azerbaijan 2 - Northern Ireland 0||WCQE|
|10 Sep 2013||Luxembourg 3 - Northern Ireland 2||WCQE|
|6 Sep 2013||Northern Ireland 2 - Portugal 4||WCQE|
The Fulham utility man has impressed in his new-found midfield role this season and could prove vital in a match that is likely to be won in the midfield battle. Baird's resilience will be key to any sort of positive result for O'Neill's side in this game, while he has shown a handy knack for goalscoring with the Cottagers recently.
The striker's games to goals ration is not the greatest (just 4 in 46 international appearances) but the Azeri's youngest-ever player is is often charged with creating openings for his colleagues, and his work rate and pace could trouble a Northern Ireland backline yet to keep a clean sheet this campaign.
After last month's morale-boosting 1-1 draw in Portugal, O'Neill will hope his men can use the result to finally push on in Group F, having picked up just two points in total so far. Northern Ireland should be confident about picking up a first win of the campaign against a struggling Azerbaijan side, but must tighten up at the back and hope to claim a first clean sheet at the same time.
Live Final scheduled Suspended Cancelled Postponed