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Northern Ireland on the brink of qualification

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Northern Ireland find themselves right on the edge of history as they play for an automatic qualification spot to reach the UEFA Euro 2016 finals against Greece on Thursday night.

The Northern Irish team need just two points from their final two games to qualify for the European Championships for the first time.

Rising to the challenge

Thursday night's game will not be an easy fixture. Jonny Evans has all but been ruled out of the squad after sustaining a hamstring injury playing in West Bromwich Albion's 2-0 loss against Pardew's Crystal Palace.

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To add to Northern Ireland's injury woes, fellow defender Gareth McAuley may not be fit to start as he suffered a calf injury in the same fixture as Evans but managed to complete the match.

If that wasn't enough, the suspension of Kyle Lafferty could be a serious blow to the team, with the Norwich City man having been in inspired form, scoring seven goals for his country during the qualifiers.

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Defenders Chris Baird and Conor McLaughlin are also serving suspensions in the Greece game which leaves a significant defensive void for Michael O'Neill to fill. 

Despite the injuries and suspensions, O'Neill remained defiant in his approach to the penultimate European qualifier. Recognising that the loss of Evans was a significant blow, O'Neill insisted that the squad has the quality and the depth to be able to do the job against Greece. 

Speculation over the Northern Ireland starting XI grows, but only time will tell who O'Neill names to create Northern Irish footballing history. 

A Greek Football Crisis?

Greece find themselves already with no prospect of qualifying for Euro 2016. Currently bottom of Group F, Greece are yet to win a fixture in the qualifiers and have managed only three points from their last eight games in the competition. 

To add to the Greek footballing crisis, they remain without a permanent international manager as talks with Bernd Schuster failed to see him take over the struggling side. With Kostas Tsanas as interim manager, the turbulence in Greek football may be set to continue, to Northern Ireland's advantage.

To compound the Greek misery even more, Roma defender Kostas Manolas, will be suspended for the fixture and key defender Kyriakos Papadopoulos will miss the match through injury. With the Greek team in disarray off and on the pitch,

Tsanas will be hoping to restore some pride, and round off the final two fixtures positively to help the healing process begin after a dismal campaign.

Northern Irish Optimism

The Northern Irish mood is naturally very positive despite having some key players missing. The fixture has captured the imagination of Northern Ireland supporters like never before, as demand for seats has even seen Windsor Park's new south stand being partially opened especially for this event. 

An additional 1,500 additional tickets went on sale October 1 and were completely sold out within three minutes. With a grand total of 11,700 potential spectators all cramming expecting to witness a slice of Northern Irish football history. The atmosphere at Windsor Park will be electric, especially if Northern Ireland walk away with all three points and secure their first appearance in a major international competition since the 1986 Mexico World Cup.

Northern Ireland have a great opportunity and a win at home on October 8 would see them through to France next year and if worst comes to worst, a fixture with an away game Finland on October 11 still leaves their fate very much in their own control. 

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Topics:
Jonny Evans
Internationals
Football

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