NORTHERN IRELAND were 70/1 to start their qualifying campaign with three wins from three. Can they keep their 100% record intact when they visit Romania? Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) investigates.
Romania v Northern Ireland | Friday 19.45 | Sky Sports 2
It’s been a record-breaking start to the Euro 2016 qualifiers for Northern Ireland. Never before have the Green and White Army started a qualifying campaign with three wins from three.
Their best run of form for five years have left many fans dreaming of securing a place in their first major finals since 1986. And having already secured victories in Hungary and Greece, Michael O’Neill’s men will be bullish about their prospects in Bucharest.
Those away wins marked the first time in 20 years that Norn Iron have bagged back-to-back victories on the road in competitive outings but their hopes of creating even more history (they’ve never won four consecutive fixtures) have been hampered by the loss of key personnel to injury.
Skipper Steve Davis is joined by Jamie Ward, Ryan McLaughlin, Jonny Evans, Shane Ferguson and Alex Bruce whilst Aaron Hughes remains a doubt. It’s a bitter blow for the Irish who will find it tough to replace key figures with such a small player pool. It’s understandable then to see Bet365 chalk up the visitors as 6/1 outsiders.
Hosts Romania are breathing down the neck of O’Neill’s men in second place after two victories and a draw. But the Tricolours have since seen their coach Victor Piturca jump ship for a job in the Middle East at the end of last month so Anghel Iordanescu has stepped in to fill the void.
This is the third time he has taken the job and it is no shock to see he has not made too many changes to an unbeaten outfit for his first outing.
Only Netherlands and Turkey have come away from Bucharest with three points in the past five years of competitive football with Romania boasting a solid W6-D6-L2 record over that timeframe. But what is clear to see is the home side can be got at.
In their past 17 meaningful matches in front of their home supporters, Romania have kept just five clean sheets. Hungary and Greece have already notched away to the Tricolours during this campaign with Belarus, Luxembourg, Faroe Islands and Albania all grabbing a goal when playing in Romania.
From watching extended highlights of all three games, it’s clear O’Neill’s men have found their groove so whilst I won’t be entering the handicap markets (where I think the prices are probably about right following the injury news), I do think the visitors can grab a goal. The 2-0 win in Greece marked only Northern Ireland’s second away competitive clean sheet in five years so lets have a play on Both Teams To Score at a hunky 13/8 from William Hill.
Romania v Northern Ireland – Both Teams To Score (13/8 William Hill)