By Ciaran Coyle.
Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough will be looking to replicate Michael O’Neill’s 2015 side by beating Slovakia at Windsor Park on Thursday night, with the prize of a place at Euro 2020 at stake.
Both the hosts and the visitors will be looking to qualify for only the second time as independent nations, with both sides entering the group stage of the tournament for the first time in 2016.
Fans of the Green and White Army might not be overly confident going into Thursday’s clash as their side have won only one of their last 10 internationals, with penalties needed to get past a stubborn Bosnia and Herzegovina side in the semi-final.
Slovakia manager Stefan Tarkovic finds his side coming into this fixture in a similar vein of form, but will take confidence in the fact that his side hasn’t lost a competitive fixture against Thursday’s opponents, with their only loss coming in a friendly match in 1998.
Reports suggest its likely Baraclough will put out a similar side that started in Sarajevo back in October with the only concern being who he will choose to lead the line, with the manager seemingly preferring to play with the one lone striker.
Marek Hamsik has always been a key man for the Slovakians and being the most capped player and captain, Tarkovic will be relying on his experience to get his side through what could be a nervous occasion in Belfast.
Kick Off: 19:45 GMT