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Monday 10 Jun 2019
Northern Ireland boss aiming for four out of four

Michael O’Neill expects Northern Ireland's match against Belarus to be the toughest his side have played in UEFA EURO 2020 qualifying so far, when they line out in Borisov.

O’Neill also said in a press conference today that his team are fully focused on getting all three points against Belarus to give them a strong platform going into the Group C games this autumn against the Dutch and the Germans. 

The Belarus starting eleven against Germany featured five changes from the side that began the game against Northern Ireland in Belfast. And their coach, Igor Kriushenko, is expected to make changes again as he effectively writes off the Group C campaign and instead switches his attention to a UEFA Nations League D play-off next March that could yet see his side participate at Euro 2020 next summer.

The sweltering conditions faced by the players against Estonia in Tallinn on Saturday could mean that Northern Ireland make changes.

Conor Washington, Josh Magennis and Jordan Jones each made a significant impact when they entered the fray as second half substitutes in Tallinn.

There may not be slots for all three of them in the starting eleven tomorrow, but two out of three of them could feature from the start in Borisov.

Striker Josh Magennis has scored the winning goals in Northern Ireland’s last two competitive outings – against Belarus at home and then versus Estonia away – and Michael O’Neill could plump for a player who he says “simply just loves playing for Northern Ireland”.

And midfielder Corry Evans, who sat out the game at the A Le Coq Arena in Estonia after missing the first two qualifiers through injury, might come into the reckoning, too.

The Northern Ireland boss believes Belarus, who lost 2-0 at home to Germany over the weekend, will be a tougher proposition than the Estonians.

However, he is not expected to veer from the more expansive style of play that has served the boys in green and white so well to date in Group C.

Stuart Dallas, who was a doubt ahead of the Estonia game due to a niggling back injury, should be fit to face the Belarusians, who have lost their three games to date in the group.

Kriushenko played three at the back against the Germans, however his team will line up at the Borisov Arena in his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation that appears more like a 4-5-1 when they are defending.