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Tuesday 17 Oct 2023
Northern Ireland boss keen to build momentum

Northern Ireland will have to be at the top of their game if they are to take all three points from Slovenia in Belfast tonight.

That’s the view of manager Michael O’Neill, who is keen to build momentum following the 3-0 win against San Marino on Saturday.

He admits the second part of the home double header in this international window will be a much different proposition to part one.

In his Manager’s View column in the programme for the game, the Northern Ireland boss points out: “Tonight we will have to be at the top of our game if we are to notch up another home win in Group H of the UEFA Euro 2024 qualifiers.

“Slovenia are a strong team, and they showed that when we played them in Ljubljana last month.

“Although we played some good attacking football in that game, and created several opportunities, the Slovenians were clinical when it came to taking their chances.”

He further points out that Slovenia’s 3-0 win against Finland at home on Saturday has put them in a strong position in the group - they top the table on goal difference from Denmark - and they would be on the verge of qualification for the final tournament in Germany next summer if they register a win in Belfast.

But he adds: “It’s our job to stop them, especially their dynamic partnership up front. In Benjamin Sesko and Andraz Sporar they possess two strong strikers with an eye for goal.

“Sporar scored twice against us in September, while Sesko also weighed in with a goal. Against the Finns it was Sesko who scored twice.”

He also told media at the traditional eve of matchday press conference yesterday that Slovenia possess a world class keeper in captain Jan Oblak, who plays his club football with Atletico Madrid in Spain.

However, both the manager and captain Jonny Evans said they believe the Slovenians are “beatable”.

It was also revealed that central defender Daniel Ballard is a doubt for the game at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park (7.45 kick-off) with a thigh strain, while Paddy McNair is suspended after picking up a yellow card late on in Saturday’s Euro qualifier against San Marino.

O’Neill pointed out: "I think we have enough cover in our group. We have Eoin Toal, Trai Hume has played centre half at his club and Shea Charles has played at centre back as well. I think we have enough in the squad without calling anyone up.”

In his programme column the Northern Ireland boss also says: “We actually enjoyed slightly more possession than Slovenia in last month’s 4-2 defeat in the Slovenian capital. And we had 13 attempts on goal compared to nine for the hosts.

“I am confident we will be just as competitive tonight. However, we will have to tighten things up at the back and we will also have to be more clinical when chances come our way.”

Slovenia typically line up in a 4-4-2 formation. A major reason for this is to accommodate RB Leipzig striker Sesko and Panathinaikos forward Sporar.

They also have a strong midfield which usually features two players who ply their trade in Italy. Petar Stojanović (Sampdoria) operates on the right with Pisa’s Jan Mlakar on the left.

Most of Slovenia’s attacking moves are crafted in central midfield through Timi Elšnik (Olimpija Ljubljana) and Adam Čerin, who also plays in Greece with Panathinaikos. They are both neat passers who are comfortable carrying the ball forward.