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Thursday 02 Jun 2022
Baraclough targets win against Greece

Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough is in bullish mood ahead of the first of four UEFA Nations League matches this month.

Northern Ireland begin their third Nations League campaign with a home game against Greece tonight – and the boss says his players will be going all out for a win.

He also says he is happy with his 28-strong squad ahead of the quadruple header, despite being without the likes of Stuart Dallas, Craig Cathcart and Josh Magennis.

"I think we have a squad that can go and win all four games. We are playing against opposition that are also targeting 12 points but I don't think it's a bad thing for me to be demanding four wins if we can,” he said at a press conference yesterday.

"I think I'm a winner. I think everyone is a winner in this dressing room, nobody likes losing games of football,” he added.

We want to get off to a good start against Greece and build on that. We've got high expectations of ourselves

Baraclough stressed that the younger players and newcomers in his squad “have not come to make up the numbers” and revealed they will be utilised during what is a punishing schedule in the first half of this month.

Northern Ireland, who are top seeds in League C Group 2, did not win a game in the two previous editions of the Nations League and the manager is determined to put that right against the second seeds in their group.

Captain Steven Davis is expected to win his 135th cap at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park tonight (7.45 start) and he is looking forward to taking on the Greeks, who are managed by former Premier League boss and player Gus Poyet.

The skipper told the media: “We want to get off to a good start against Greece and build on that. We've got high expectations of ourselves."

After tonight’s game against the Greeks the boys in green and white are off to Cyprus for a UNL match on Sunday followed by another away game, against Kosovo next Thursday, before returning to Belfast to face the Cypriots on Sunday 12 June.

New head coach Poyet took charge of Greece for the first time in March as they beat Romania 1-0 in a friendly thanks to a goal from Andreas Bouchalakis and then went down to a 1-0 defeat to Montenegro in another friendly.

Tonight’s game is the former Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur player’s first competitive fixture in charge – and it is difficult to predict how Greece might line up.

They operated in a 4-3-3 formation in their friendly matches against Romania and Montenegro, which appeared more like a 4-5-1 when they were out of possession. The ex-Uruguay international usually favoured a back four during his club management career, with his teams typically lining up in either a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 formation.

Greece have a strong, experienced defensive spine. Goalkeeper Odysseas Vlachodimos has played over 150 matches for Portuguese giants Benfica, while veteran centre back Georgios Tzavellas – who can also operate at left back – was included in the Greek squad for UEFA Euro 2012 and the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Left back Kostas Tsimikas continues to impress for both Liverpool and the Greek national team.

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There are a number of attacking players in the squad capable of making things happen going forward, including the lively Norwich City winger Christos Tzolis.

Poyet, who has previously managed at Brighton and Hove Albion, Sunderland, AEK Athens, Real Betis, Shanghai Shenhua, Bordeaux and Universidad Católica, says he is impressed with Northern Ireland.

He pointed out: “They have a good style and clearly a good understanding of their manager’s instructions. The vast majority of the players are playing in either England or Scotland – leagues that you need to be physically tough in and we see that strength.

“When they play against top teams they show they are up for the fight, as they demonstrated against Italy at the end of last year.”