WILLIE DUNCAN (@Willie_Duncan) hunts the value in Saturday’s lopsided World Cup qualifier in Belfast.
Northern Ireland v San Marino | Saturday 19.45 | Sky Sports 2
There are, according to the well-worn cliché, no easy games in international football.
It’s fair to suggest, however, that some are easier than others and Northern Ireland have one of the easiest of all to look forward to this weekend when they welcome San Marino to Windsor Park.
Describing San Marino as minnows of European football is probably doing something of a disservice to minnows, in all honesty.
There was cause for much celebration for San Marino during the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign; a goalless draw against Estonia in 2014 saw Pierangelo Manzaroli’s side pick up their first point in competitive action for 13 years.
Elsewhere, an agonising 2-1 defeat against Lithuania last year saw San Marino score their first away goal in a competitive match since 2001.
You’d have to be in possession of a particularly hard heart not to wish San Marino the very best in their footballing endeavours, although it’s unlikely that there will be too much of that sentiment in Belfast on Saturday.
The Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, of course, was a cause for celebration for Northern Ireland too, as the Green and White Army made it to their first major tournament in 30 years and the boys from Belfast are still bouncing after securing a goalless draw against Czech Republic in Prague last month.
San Marino were beaten 1-0 by Azerbaijan in their opening World Cup qualifier and the visitors would, most likely, secretly settle for another narrow defeat this weekend.
Backing Northern Ireland at 1/40 to pick up all three points, though, is unlikely to make anyone rich and the 2/11 quote for the hosts to win to nil is not a price to get excited about either.
You certainly couldn’t blame Northern Ireland if they had one eye on Tuesday’s titanic tussle with Germany and, as such, the visitors may get off relatively lightly.
Five years have passed since Northern Ireland last scored four goals – against Faroe Islands – and, even though O’Neill’s outfit are in better shape now than they have been in many years, the Green and White Army have won just one of their last 45 games by more than two goals.
San Marino, then, could avoid a humiliating hammering and it’s worth taking a punt on Manzaroli’s men (+4) at 21/20 (Betway) in the handicap market.
The selection would have landed in five of San Marino’s last eight games and, at odds against, it should be snapped up again ahead of Saturday’s match.
Northern Ireland v San Marino – San Marino +4 handicap (21/20 Betway)