Northern Ireland wrap up their World Cup qualifying campaign on Monday night when European champions Italy visit Windsor Park.
Hopes of reaching Qatar were dashed last month, but Northern Ireland restored some positivity with Friday’s 1-0 win over Lithuania.
Here, the PA news agency looks at five talking points ahead of the match.
Third place on the line
The win over Lithuania moved Northern Ireland back up to third place in Group C, level on points with Bulgaria in fourth. Third is now the minimum target for Ian Baraclough as Northern Ireland look for the best possible seeding going into the next qualifying campaign, so they need to match Bulgaria’s result in their game away to Switzerland. Anything less now will be a disappointment.
Italy need a win
After Jorginho skied a late penalty on Friday, Italy had to settle for a 1-1 draw against Switzerland, meaning the top two sides in Group C head into their final fixtures level on points, World Cup hopes on the line. That means the European champions head to Belfast in need of a result. Roberto Mancini’s players will be fired up for sure, but will the pressure also get into their heads?
132 and out?
As another qualifying campaign comes to an end, speculation has swirled all week over the future of captain Steven Davis – and it remains a real possibility the game against Italy will be his last. The Rangers midfielder has said he will take time to reflect with his family and manager Baraclough, but insisted no decision had yet been taken. After 16 years of service to his country, it is difficult to picture Northern Ireland’s midfield without him.
Against the odds
Italy have lost only one match since September 2018, going 37 games unbeaten on their way to the European crown in the summer. The last time a side ranked outside the top 50 – Northern Ireland are currently 58th – enjoyed victory against them came 14 years ago when Hungary, then ranked 65, beat them 3-1 in August 2007.
Another chance for Taylor?
Seventeen-year-old Dale Taylor made his Northern Ireland debut on Friday as he played the last 12 minutes as a substitute. The former Linfield striker, now of Nottingham Forest, wasted no time in getting into the action, winning a corner, with his only regret that he did not take a shooting chance on first time. It was an impressive introduction at a time when Northern Ireland’s forwards had been struggling to get the ball. But Italy’s defence poses an all together different threat. With attacking options limited, will Baraclough give the youngster another taste of senior international football at some point on Monday?
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