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Thursday 12 Nov 2020
Baraclough says his team are capable of winning showdown with Slovakia

Northern Ireland will not be holding back when they face Slovakia in the UEFA Euro 2020 Path B Play-Off Final in Belfast tonight. 

The players know what’s at stake: a place at next summer’s European Championship finals.

And Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough has promised they will give it their all at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park (7.45 start).

The team is expected to be along similar lines to the one that started in last month’s superb penalty shootout victory against Bosnia and Herzegovina in the Path B last four.

But Baraclough always has a few tricks up his sleeve. Niall McGinn was not expected to start against the Bosnians yet he was in the starting 11 and scored the all-important equaliser that ultimately led to the shootout success.

The manager says the players have trained well this week and he senses they are hungry to reach the Euros once again after the boys in green and white made their bow in the finals in France in the summer of 2016.

“There has been an intense focus on what we need to do to book our place at the Euro 2020 final tournament next summer,” he points out in the matchday programme. 

“Our preparations have gone extremely well and I am confident we can succeed. We know it’s a game we are capable of winning if we set our minds right and if we do the right things,” he adds.

Baraclough also says he will not to be taking the opposition lightly. He notes: “They have lots of players who are more than capable of hurting us, so we will have to concentrate fully at all times to nullify any threats.”

Marek Hamšík is Slovakia’s playmaker and an individual who is capable of conjuring up something from nothing. The former Napoli star, who now plays in the Chinese Super League, is afforded a relatively free role in the Slovakian team, which makes him difficult to mark. 

Slovakia usually play a counter-attacking style of football, although they are blessed with a number of good passers, in particular Hamšík, Stanislav Lobotka and Juraj Kucka.

And Albert Rusnák can be a real threat in wide positions. He often exploits the space left by opponents who put too much focus in trying to stop the attacking endeavours of Hamšík. 

Meanwhile, both the manager and the Northern Ireland players are pleased there will be just over 1000 fans in the stadium tonight to cheer them on.

Baraclough said: “I would have preferred a full house, of course, but in the current circumstances, with the Covid-19 pandemic still looming large, we should be thankful that we have been allowed so many fans into the ground.”