Azerbaijan will be going to Belfast with a clear lead of 3 points over hosts Northern Ireland in the Group C cluster of the WC 2018 qualifiers. The Azeris have been fortuitous in earning their 7 points, a slender 1-0 win against minions San Marino, a 1-0 at home against Norway and a 0-0 draw against Czech Republic. Coach Robert Prosinecki’s side had just one-third possession in both the latter two matches and ended with positive results. In all likelihood, Azerbaijan will try to soak in a Northern Ireland assault at Belfast and hit on possible breaks. Since not conceding goals have worked to such good effect in Azerbaijan’s case, Prosinecki will probably stick to the defensive formation consisting of Magomed Mirzabekov, Maksim Medvedev, Rashad Sadiqov and Jakub Brabec. Strikers Dimitrij Nazarov and Ramil Sheydayev had not much to do upfront in the face of intense possession by the opposition of late and are likely to spend most of their time in their own half at Belfast. In fact their only goal from their last two international outings came from the Medvedev, a full-time defender.
For Northern Ireland there seems to be little option other than to attack and go for goals and a win. The in-form Latic striker Will Grigg has been included in coach Michael O’Neill’s squad for that very reason. Left winger and attacking midfielder left winger, Chris Brunt, has also been included with that in mind. Nottingham Forest winger, Jamie Ward and Leeds’ Stuart Dallas will be missing the Belfast clash due to injuries.
The two teams have met each other on four occasions at an international level since 2004. Both have won a game apiece and drawn the other two. Northern Ireland’s last match in this Group C cluster was a 0-2 loss to world champions Germany. There was 4-0 win over San Marino before that. A 0-0 draw against the Czech Republic queered the pitch for the Northern Irish which is why they are currently in the 3rd spot with 4 points against 2nd placed Azerbaijan’s 7. Just a 1-0 win at Belfast will be enough to catapult the hosts over Azerbaijan by virtue of a healthier goal-average.
Recommended Tip: Northern Ireland to win, Best Odds 8/13 @ Skybet
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