CAN Northern Ireland secure qualification to their first ever European Championship with a win on Thursday night? Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) takes a look at the betting.
Northern Ireland v Greece | Thursday 19.45 | Sky Sports 5
Northern Ireland require just two points from their final two fixtures to clinch qualification to the European Championships for the very first time in their history. Michael O’Neill’s men are sitting pretty at the top of Group F with a marvellous W5-D2-L1 return from their eight qualifiers thus far.
The Green and White Army hold a four point cushion over third-placed Hungary and know victory over the rock-bottom Greeks in Belfast would secure their place at Euro 2016 – their first major tournament since 1986. That’s one hell of a carrot to motivate the Ulsterman.
O’Neill’s troops were 2-0 winners when the sides met in Greece earlier in the campaign and the hosts are bound to attract plenty of punters attention on Thursday night. The Greeks are winless (W0-D3-L5) following a dreadful fall from grace. But I wouldn’t be rushing to back Norn Iron at 13/8 (Betfred) quotes.
The Ulsterman have main marksman Kyle Lafferty suspended with Jonny Evans and Chris Baird both injured. Lafferty has notched seven goals from eight qualification games, making him the third highest goalscorer in qualification and his absence will certainly weaken the hosts, who aren’t prolific at the best of times.
And although Windsor Park has a reputation for being an intimidating venue for opposition nations, it’s been far from fruitful in recent years. The Green and White Army have only W4-D10-L8 of their previous 22 appearances in front of their home supporters, making a play on Norn Iron far from appealing.
Sure, Greece have fallen a long way since winning Euro 2004 and with Faroe Islands doing the double over the Pirate Ship, Claudio Ranieri and Sergio Markarian both saw their spells in charge of the national team cut short. But Kostas Tsanas has at least restored a glimmer of pride with a well-earned goalless draw at Romania in Greece’s last outing.
I’m sure we’ve all been shocked and appalled by Greece’s drop-off since competing at the World Cup last year but I’m prepared to believe they’re good enough to get a result in Belfast and hold off the Ulsterman’s party for an extra few days. But there aren’t any particular angles worth pursuing at the prices.
Instead, backing the half-time 0-0 correct score at 11/10 with William Hill has plenty of mileage. It’s proven a winning selection in nine of Northern Ireland’s last 13 with O’Neill’s troops leaking a goal before the interval in only one of those matches.
Greece have recorded Under 2.5 Goals in 10 of their last 11 and have failed to even score in eight of their 10 fixtures since their World Cup exit – six of which were goalless at half-time. I’m more than happy to invest in a repeat at odds-against quotes between two shot-shy nations with Lafferty’s suspension also thrown into the mix.
Northern Ireland v Greece – 0-0 half-time correct score (11/10 William Hill)
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