Michael O’Neill wants his team to make the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park a fortress, starting with tonight’s UEFA Euro 2024 qualifier against Kazakhstan.
Although Northern Ireland lost narrowly to Finland in their first home match of the Euro 2024 qualification campaign back in March, the Northern Ireland boss is keen for his side to turn the National Stadium into a stronghold.
He told media yesterday that home victories provide a solid foundation in any campaign.
He also said he is confident his team can get a positive result in the Group H encounter at the National Stadium (7.45 kick-off).
O’Neill admitted to being frustrated at the 1-0 defeat to Denmark on Friday night, especially the VAR decision which chalked off Callum Marshall’s debut ‘goal’, but said there were lots of positives to take from the Euro qualifier in Copenhagen.
In the programme for tonight’s match he points out: “I thought we contained the top seeds in the group really well, especially in the first half.
“We were a bit ragged after the goal went in, however we kept going and found a way to stay in the game. And I thought we were the better team in the closing stages.
“The younger players all stepped up to the mark, while the more experienced players in the team performed admirably. It was a superb team effort.”
Kazakhstan defeated the Danes 3-2 in Astana in March, thanks to a stirring comeback, and they grabbed another three points away to San Marino on Friday (3-0 win).
O’Neill admitted that because most of the Kazakhstan squad play their club football in Kazakhstan they are a bit of an unknown quantity.
In the matchday programme he says: “Although most of their squad play in the Kazakhstan Premier League, and few of them are well known outside their homeland, they have shown they are quality players and we know it will be another tough game tonight.”
The manager revealed that while he has done his homework on the opposition, he has been concentrating on how his own team will set up against the Kazakhs.
Both Paddy McNair and Conor Bradley missed training yesterday after picking up knocks in the Parken in Copenhagen and may not be available for selection.
Craig Cathcart missed the game against the Danes with a back spasm, however the manager is hoping he will be fit to face the Kazakhs.
Kazakhstan coach Magomed Adiev said yesterday that he is expecting a tough, physical encounter against Northern Ireland.
Forward Abat Aimbetov, who plays for Astana in the Kazakhstan Premier League, is seen as Kazakhstan’s dangerman. He has scored five international goals across 2022 and 2023. He was suspended for the game against San Marino but returns tonight.
Yan Vorogovskiy is one of a handful of players in Kazakhstan’s squad currently playing outside of his homeland. A reliable performer, who is able to operate as a left-sided full back, wing-back or winger, Vorogovskiy helped his club RMD Molenbeek to promotion to Belgium’s top division, the Jupiler Pro League, this season.
Defender Nuraly Alip is another talent based outside of Kazakhstan. The centre back currently plies his trade with Russian Premier League champions Zenit St Petersburg.
Kazakhstan typically set up in a 5-4-1 shape that appears more like a 3-4-3 formation when they are attacking. They are also adept at playing on the counter attack.