Northern Ireland v Slovakia
Thursday 12 November, 19:45
Live on Sky Sports
A big night in Belfast
Ian Baraclough is one game away from emulating his predecessor, Michael O’Neill, by taking Northern Ireland to the Finals of the European Championship.
Ironically it was O’Neill who did most of the hard work, as it the third place finish in the qualifying group that got them this far – which he was in charge for.
Baraclough stepped up from the U21s to replace him, and his record so far is played five, drawn two and lost three. One of those two draws led to the penalty shoot-out victory at Bosnia in the semi-finals of these Play-offs, and there have been mitigating factors for the results in his other four matches.
Other than the injured Corry Evans, I would expect that the Green and White Army will line-up exactly the same as they did in Bosnia, with Josh Magennis given the responsibility of leading the line in a 4-5-1 formation.
Slovakia axe manager ahead of crucial tie
Slovakia have taken a very similar path to their opponents as they are here courtesy of their third place finish in their qualifying group. They too have also struggled in the Nations League – one point from four outings – and despite a penalty shoot-out win over Republic of Ireland in the Play-off semis, the Slovakian FA decided to sack their manager last month, and appoint a brand new one for this fixture.
Štefan Tarkovič has been involved with the national side before – being the assistant between 2013 and 2018, and he even briefly took charge in October 2018.
Marek Hamsik is the star man for the Slovakians, and with 26 goals in 126 appearances for his country, he is not only their most capped player, he is their record goalscorer.
Value on a home win
The Betfair Exchange is struggling to split all three possible outcomes of this match, with the hosts a marginal favourite at 2.915/8, the draw at 3.02/1 and the visitors at 3.052/1.
Slovakia were a touch fortunate against the Republic of Ireland in the semis, with the Irish spurning plenty of chances. If they play like they did that day – and they had home advantage too – I can’t see them being as lucky.
As previously mentioned, Northern Ireland, are yet to win inside of 90 minutes under Baraclough, but at just shy of 2/1, I think this is the time to put your faith in them.
Windsor Park won’t be rocking like normal, but this is an experienced Norn Iron team, with plenty of these players being involved in the side’s exploits at Euro 2016.
I very much doubt that they will run away with the game, but a 1-0 or 2-1 win wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest.
Like with nearly all of Northern Ireland’s matches, Under 2.5 Goals is the heavy favourite. It is currently trading at around the 1.4840/85 mark, with Over 2.5 at 2.8615/8.
Clearly two goals or less is the most likely outcome here, as not only are these teams not prolific, the stakes are incredibly high.
Both of their semi-final ties saw Under 2.5 backers collect, and the home team haven’t found the net more than once in a game in any of their last seven fixtures.
I wouldn’t be rushing to back Unders as a single at the current price, but I wouldn’t talk anybody out of including it in a multi bet.
Key Opta Stat
Victory for Northern Ireland will see them qualify for the European Championship finals for the second time and a second consecutive tournament, reaching the Round of 16 at EURO 2016.