Northern Ireland face Luxembourg in a friendly at Windsor Park on Thursday.
The match comes before Michael O’Neill’s men resume their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign against Germany on Monday night.
Here, PA’s Ian Parker takes a look at the key talking points ahead of the game.
All eyes on Monday
Thursday’s friendly is a mere hors d’oeuvre for Monday’s crunch test against Germany. Michael O’Neill split the Euro 2020 qualifiers into two key tests for his players at the start of the campaign. They aced the first half, taking 12 points from 12 in beating Belarus and Estonia home and away earlier this year, but that was the minimum requirement to keep hopes alive. Now comes crunch time with upcoming games home and away to Germany and Holland.
Match fitness needed
O’Neill will no doubt make changes for Thursday’s game but the key consideration in every selection decision will be Monday. It is not a simple case of resting and protecting those players he wants to use, as several key men need playing time having struggled to get it at club level early in the season. Corry Evans will captain the side having made only a couple of Carabao Cup starts for Blackburn, while O’Neill also has a decision to make in goal with none of his three keepers – Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Trevor Carson or Michael McGovern – first choice with their clubs.
Injuries have taken their toll on the squad O’Neill originally named last week, with three players having dropped out already while others are dealing with issues. Jordan Jones and Michael Smith on Tuesday joined Paul Smyth in heading home, with Shayne Lavery, Kyle Lafferty and Mark Sykes called up in their place. But the problems don’t end there for O’Neill, with striker Liam Boyce nursing a problem too.
Those injuries have opened the door for O’Neill to hand further opportunities to some younger players in the squad. Lavery, 20, was left out of the squad at first but was the first man to get the call when Smyth went down with injury and the Linfield striker will be looking to earn only his second cap after an outstanding start to the season. Liam Donnelly, 23, is also hoping to get a second cap, some five years after his first, after his move from defence to midfield has yielded eight goals from eight games for Motherwell. Sykes, among the last players added to the group, would make his debut if he gets on the pitch in either match.
No overlooking Luxembourg
Michael O’Neill on Luxembourg: “Their record in the last two years has been very good. We expect a tough game.”— Northern Ireland (@NorthernIreland) September 4, 2019
Luxembourg are without a win in their last four games but prior to that Luc Holtz’s side had enjoyed a strong run, winning six of their 11 games in 2018. With a number of players playing in the German Bundesliga, in Europe with the likes of Dynamo Kiev, and in Major League Soccer, they have good experience in the side. “They’ve got players playing at a high level and had some really good results over the last two years so we expect a tough game,” O’Neill said. “They also have a big game on Monday night against Serbia so they’re in a similar situation to us. I think it’s a good game for us.”
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