Northern Ireland will seek to avenge a 2-1 defeat in March when they host Serbia in Group B knowing that victory will keep them in the hunt for UEFA EURO 2012 qualification.
Northern Ireland’s dreams of a place at UEFA EURO 2012 have some life in them yet following a resounding Paddy McCourt inspired 4-0 victory last month over Brian Kerr’s Faeroe Islands, as Serbia come calling in a crucial Group C encounter at a sold out Windsor Park.
Serbia narrowly edged a close encounter Belgrade when the sides met back in spring, two goals in nine second-half minutes from Marko Pantelić and Zoran Tošić turning the game their way after Northern Ireland had taken the lead when Gareth McAuley headed in Chris Brunt’s free-kick.
The North currently sit two points behind 2nd place Slovenia with a game in hand and while Italy are the runaway group leaders the prospect of a play off place and a first qualification for the Ulstermen since 1986 is in their own hands.
Nigel Worthington will look to Celtic star McCourt to provide the flair in his hard working side, the former Derry winger has been given a free role by Nigel Worthington and has proved the southern doubters wrong. A lot of hot air has been written over players of a nationalist background not being welcome with the Northern setup but those mockers should have listened to the Windsor kop chanting the Derryman’s name in the last game.
Another important link tomorrow will be Rangers powerhouse, Steven Davis, also a scorer against the Faoroese. He is the fulcrum around which the Ulstermen will probe the Serbian’s. David Healy will also look to end his drought and come the hour come Healy perhaps?
Serbia are well used to a hot atmosphere but there is nothing like a Belfast roar to shake the visitor so hopefully an early goal will put it up the visitors. Serbia may not the Yugoslavia great of 90-92 before the cruel division caused by war but will be no pushovers. Aaaron Hughes will skipper the Irish and again he and keeper Lee Camp will need to be on their toes.
Prediction- 2-1 Northern Ireland
• Northern Ireland’s record in 11 games against Yugoslavia, Serbia and Montenegro, and the independent Serbia reads W1 D2 L8 (W1 D1 L4 at home).
• The only other time Serbia have faced the Northern Irish in their current incarnation was a friendly game in Belfast on 14 November 2009, when Danko Lazović’s solitary effort earned a 1-0 win for Serbia.
• Northern Ireland’s only victory against the old Yugoslavia came in their first meeting, a UEFA European Championship qualifier in Belfast on 16 March 1975 in which Bryan Hamilton scored the only goal.
• Northern Ireland lost on the two subsequent occasions they welcomed Yugoslavia to Belfast, succumbing 2-1 and 2-0 in UEFA European Championship qualifiers in 1987 and 1990 respectively.