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Sunday 24 Mar 2019
Northern Ireland v Belarus: Another victory is a must following solid start to qualification campaign

Michael O’Neill will be looking for more of the same, but perhaps with a bit more of a cutting edge, when Northern Ireland take on Belarus in Belfast tonight.

The boys in green and white got their Euro 2020 qualification campaign off to a solid start with a 2-0 win against Estonia at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park on Thursday night thanks to goals from Niall McGinn and Steven Davis.

The Northern Ireland manager knows another victory is a must and he will again be looking for his team to push forward at every opportunity (kick-off time is 19.45).

In his matchday programme notes for the game against the Belarusians he says: “While I thought at times our final ball in the attacking third could have been better, I was pleased with our patience, our perseverance and the way in which we controlled possession (against Estonia).”

He believes Belarus will be a different proposition than the Estonians and points out: “In competitive matches Belarus are always a handful and with the bulk of their squad coming from BATE Borisov, who are perennial qualifiers for Champions and Europa League group stages, the quality of their team and play should never be underestimated.  

“Despite their 4-0 defeat to the Dutch in Group C on Thursday night, make no mistake this game - and the matches against Estonia and Belarus in June - will be challenging.”

Midfielder Corry Evans and winger Gavin Whyte have not recovered from injury so expect the starting line-up to be along similar lines to the one that kicked off against Estonia, which means a 4-3-3 system will likely be deployed.

Veteran defender Gareth McAuley is also back in contention after shaking off a long-standing injury but he is not expected to start.

Belarus typically line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation that appears more like a 4-5-1 when they are defending. 

Against the likes of Luxembourg, Moldova and San Marino in their UEFA Nations League fixtures back in the autumn - they won their League D group - the White Wings dominated possession but this is unlikely to be the case in tonight’s match.

The visitors will look to hit Northern Ireland on the counter-attack. The White Wings’ full-backs often move up the pitch in support of attacking moves while at least one of their midfielders looks to provide defensive cover at all times by taking up a deep lying position just in front of the back four.  

Belarus had a tough Group C opener against the Dutch and Michael O’Neill will be hoping that 4-0 defeat will have left them somewhat dejected and tired – a situation which his side can hopefully exploit to the max.