Northern Ireland v Belarus: Irish can pass tougher next test


NORTHERN IRELAND look to make it two wins from two in their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign with a home contest against Belarus on Sunday night. Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) sets the scene.

Northern Ireland v Belarus | Sunday 24th March 2019, 19:45 | Sky Sports

Northern Ireland v Belarus | Sunday 24th March 2019, 19:45 | Sky Sports

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill spoke about the importance of starting the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign with back-to-back home victories and his side will now look to collect their second successive win at Windsor Park when Belarus arrive on Sunday.

Housed in a qualifying group alongside the Netherlands and Germany, the Green & White Army have been given a devilishly difficult pool to progress from. However, the hosts Belfast form should stand them in good stead. Norn Iron have taken top honours in 12 of their past 17 games in the capital dating back to October 2015.

The only fixtures Northern Ireland have failed to win here during that 17-game streak came against Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Bosnia and Croatia – five nations rated significantly higher than Sunday night’s visitors Belarus. And there’ll be plenty of confidence in the camp after easily dispatching Estonia on Thursday night.

Norn Iron won the shot count 19-3 and generated 2.08 Expected Goals (xG) in their 2-0 triumph over Estonia as O’Neill setting his side up in an enterprising 4-3-3 system. Jordan Jones and Niall McGinn flanked Kyle Lafferty in attack with Stuart Dallas and Jamal Lewis operating at full-back. Paddy McNair partnered George Saville and Steven Davis in a robust midfield.

A tougher test in store

Sunday’s showdown will undoubtedly be a tougher test of Northern Ireland’s mettle but I’m happy to back them to deliver a vital victory. Belarus saw their improved recent form ended with a 4-0 beating in Amsterdam against the Dutch, although the White Wings were more competitive than the final score suggested.

Igor Kriushenko’s charges fired in only two fewer attempts from inside the penalty area than Holland on Thursday night, highlighting their potential threat. But their improved recent results (W6-D3-L2) also don’t tell the full story as six of those contests came in the Nations League against Luxembourg, Moldova and San Marino as well as some weak friendlies.

True, Belarus were only beaten 2-1 away in France during World Cup qualification , but the French also drew hosting Luxembourg in that campaign with their counter-attacking preferences better suited to taking on the big guns. More tellingly, Sweden twice thumped them 4-0 while the Dutch bagged 4-1 and 3-1 victories home and away respectively.

In qualification, the White Wings have W2-D2-L13 away over the past seven years, failing to score in nine of those 17 tussles. With the Irish have notched more than three goals at Windsor Park on only three occasions over the past 10 years, I’m happy to follow a familiar theme and support Norn Iron to win and Under 3.5 Goals at a generous 6/5 (Betway).

Best Bets

Northern Ireland v Estonia – Northern Ireland to win and Under 3.5 Goals (6/5 Betway)

About Author

The big cheese at WLB. After starting his career in newspaper journalism, Mark soon found his way into the online betting world, forging a career in content, social media and marketing production before setting WeLoveBetting up soon after the 2014 World Cup. With a huge passion for stats, analytics, the EFL and European football, Mark’s other interests include playing rugby, following his beloved QPR and travel.

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