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5 talking points ahead of Northern Ireland’s Nations League clash with Austria

Bosnia and Herzegovina v Northern Ireland – UEFA Euro 2020 – Play-Offs – Semi Final – Stadion Grbavica
(Image credit: Nedim Grabovica)

Northern Ireland host Austria at Windsor Park on Sunday night as they continue their UEFA Nations League campaign.

Here, the PA news agency takes a look at five talking points going in to the match.

On to the next one

Bosnia and Herzegovina v Northern Ireland – UEFA Euro 2020 – Play-Offs – Semi Final – Stadion Grbavica

Niall McGinn was on target for Northern Ireland as the match in Sarajevo finished 1-1 after 120 minutes (Nedim Grabovica/PA)

There was seven months of build-up to Thursday’s Euro 2020 qualifying play-off semi-final against Bosnia and Herzegovina, but Northern Ireland do not get long to celebrate their penalty shoot-out victory in Sarajevo as they are back in action just three days later. Nothing stands still for long in football, but this is an unprecedented schedule, with three matches squeezed into one international window thanks to delays caused by the pandemic. Get used to it for now – the next international window will be the same, highlighted by the play-off final against Slovakia at Windsor Park on November 12.

Baraclough to shuffle the pack

Northern Ireland v Netherlands – UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifying – Group C – Windsor Park

Gavin Whyte is among those in contention to come into Ian Baraclough’s side (Liam McBurney/PA)

Ian Baraclough is expected to make a number of changes to his side to keep the legs fresh after a tough, nervous 120 minutes plus penalties on Thursday night. Gavin Whyte and Jordan Jones made an impact as substitutes, while Liam Boyce will surely fancy a starting spot after he came off the bench in the 119th minute to score the decisive spot-kick in the shoot-out. But with every fixture a competitive one, Baraclough will be wary of too many changes disrupting the rhythm in his side on the back of a confidence-boosting win.

Good time to play the Austrians?

Austria Training Session – Ernst Happel Stadium

David Alaba (left) and Marko Arnautovic (right) could both be missing for Austria (John Walton/PA)

Northern Ireland lost home and away to Austria in the Nations League two years ago, beaten by a stoppage-time goal from Valentino Lazaro in a 2-1 defeat at Windsor Park before Marko Arnautovic’s goal made the difference in Vienna. But Austria make the trip this time around without Arnautovic and could also be missing versatile Bayern Munich man David Alaba – who sat out Wednesday’s friendly win over Greece with a muscular problem. Last month’s surprise 3-2 home defeat to Romania suggests this Austrian side can be there for the taking.

(A few) fans return to Windsor Park

The Irish FA announced shortly before Thursday’s kick-off in Sarajevo that 600 fans would be allowed in to the National Football Stadium for Sunday’s match. While they will struggle to replicate its usual raucous atmosphere, it will be a welcome move in the right direction for all concerned. Baraclough was quick to note his Windsor Park debut was “eerie” last month – and that was before Norway had stuck five goals in the Northern Ireland net, while the chosen six hundred will surely revel in their first home international in almost a year. If all goes well, hopes will increase that the number could be higher for next month’s play-off final against Slovakia.

Still seeking a win

Northern Ireland v Norway – UEFA Nations League – Group 1 – League B – Windsor Park

Northern Ireland suffered a 5-1 home defeat to Norway last time out in the Nations League (Liam McBurney/PA)

The Nations League has not been Northern Ireland’s favourite competition up to this point. Last month’s dramatic 1-1 draw against Romania – in which Whyte scored in the 86th minute after Northern Ireland played more than half the night with 10 men – gave them their first point at the fifth attempt. Norway quickly inflicted another defeat, and a heavy one, but Northern Ireland’s luck will surely change soon. Wednesday’s trip to Oslo may prove a tall order, but they could break their duck in Belfast this weekend.