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Sunday 05 Jun 2022
Baraclough confident of getting Nations League campaign back on track

Ian Baraclough insists Northern Ireland will be aiming to “put things right” when they face Cyprus in Larnaca later today.

The Northern Ireland boss admitted both he and his players were disappointed to lose to Greece in the first of their four Nations League matches this month.

The 1-0 defeat to the Greeks in Belfast on Thursday means the boys in green and white are still searching for their first victory in the UEFA competition at the 12th time of asking.

Northern Ireland, who are top seeds in League C Group 2 in the third edition of the tournament, are expected to secure a win against the lowest ranked team in the group when they meet at the AEK Arena (5pm start, UK time).

And Baraclough is confident they can do that and also win away to Kosovo on Thursday before returning home to face the Cypriots at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park next Sunday in the final instalment of this month’s quadruple header.

At a press conference yesterday the Northern Ireland boss admitted his team were a bit rusty against second seeds Greece in a game of few chances at the National Stadium.

He pointed out that prior to Thursday’s game some members of his squad had not played competitively for well over a month.

Baraclough said there was a determination within the panel to “put things right” against the Cypriots and stressed his side would be looking to create a lot more chances against Cyprus than they managed against a Greek side who were solid defensively.

There’s a clean bill of health in the Northern Ireland squad ahead of today’s game apart from striker Conor Washington, who has had to withdraw from the panel due to injury.

Just over 600 Northern Ireland fans have made the trip to Cyprus for the game – out of an estimated crowd of circa 2,500 – and the manager firmly believes his side can get their Nations League campaign back on track at the AEK Arena.

Cyprus’ 2-0 win over Estonia in the UEFA Nations League Group C Play-Outs on 29 March this year ended a 364-day wait for victory, stretching back to a 1-0 success against Slovenia in a 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifier last March.

In between those games the Cypriots picked up two draws and were beaten eight times, including a 6-0 defeat at the hands of Russia back in November. 

They will be looking to get back to winning ways against Northern Ireland in Larnaca later today after losing their opening C2 encounter against Kosovo on Thursday. The Kosovans won the game in Larnaca by two goals to nil.

Like Northern Ireland, Cyprus have a blend of youth and experience in their squad.

Most observers would regard them as a counter-attacking side, with a large number of their chances fashioned shortly after defending an opposition move.

Team captain Kostakis Artymatas, who was a team-mate of Kyle Lafferty when the Northern Ireland striker played for Anorthosis Famagusta last season, plays an important role in this approach, sitting deep in midfield and looking to play the ball quickly to more attack-minded players when he wins possession.  

The tricky Marinos Tzionis is the man Cyprus usually rely on to make things happen from an attacking perspective. The 20-year-old Sporting Kansas City winger looks to have a bright future ahead of him. And 19-year-old defender Stelios Andreou, who plays his club football with Belgian side Royal Charleroi, is another highly rated Cypriot youngster.

Pieros Sotiriou, who leads the line for Bulgarian side Ludogorets, is their man target man. He has hit the net 12 times for his country in his 55 appearances to date.

At the back Nicholas Ioanno, who plays for Como in Italy, is a solid operator, while Hibernian midfielder Alex Gogic, who was on loan at St Mirren this year, is starting to shine in the middle of the park for the Cypriots.