Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Israel vs Northern Ireland

Ireland boss Michael O’Neill will be hoping his side can bounce back after their disappointing 2-0 loss to Azerbaijan on Friday left them level on points with Luxembourg at the bottom of Group F.

O’Neill has decisions to make in defence with Jonny Evans suspended following his red card on Friday and Gareth McAuley also banned. Fellow defender Aaron Hughes is also unavailable through injury and the Ireland manager must now decide who to play out of Craig Cathcart, Alex Bruce, Rory McArdle and Chris Baird.

He said: We are down in experience and numbers (in defence).

"Craig Cathcart has played very well in all the games he has been asked to play in. The (other) options are Alex Bruce and Rory McArdle and Chris Baird has played there in the past as well."

Chris Brunt and Martin Paterson missed training on Sunday but O’Neill believes the pair will be fit enough to face Israel tomorrow.

Israel have little to play for as they cannot reach Portugal in second place in the group and cannot be overtaken by Azerbaijan meaning their third spot is secure.

Michael O'Neill's men have picked up just a single victory in over the course of their qualifying campaign and anything less than a win coupled with victory for last-place Luxembourg in their clash with Portugal will see them finish bottom.

Norn Iron head into the match on the back of a 2-0 defeat to Azerbaijan on Friday, and to compound matters star defender Jonny Evans's red card means he will be unavailable for the final game, along with fellow defender Gareth McAuley and midfielder Oliver Norwood.

O'Neill acknowledged that while there have been improvements as the campaign progressed, there is still some way to go before the Green and White Army can realistically contend for a place in a major tournament.

"It's another harsh lesson, the players have made it difficult for themselves in this campaign," he said.

"I'm not going to turn around and say we've been progressing at a rate of knots. We're progressing in small steps and taking a few setbacks along the way. This was another one.

"Some of our performances have been good but we just have to live with the results and they've been poor, there's no getting away from that."

Israel, meanwhile, are destined to finish third regardless of the outcome, but Eli Guttman's side will no doubt want to end their campaign on a positive note while completing the double over Northern Ireland having beaten them 2-0 in the reverse fixture back in March.

The Blue and Whites' attack will be spearheaded by Eden Ben Basat, who scored the equaliser against Portugal after a scuffed clearance by keeper Rui Patricio gifted him the opening.

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