Football

European Qualifiers: Northern Ireland on the Brink of History

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The Northern Irish football national football team is on the brink of doing something very special. The Green and White Army are one win away from qualification for Euro 2016. This situation is one that very few would have predicted in September of last year when they trailed their first group match 1-0 in Hungary. 

Performances have exceeded all recent precedent and expectation, meaning this excellent unit are now one win away from history. Northern Ireland have never participated in a European Championships and have not competed in a World Cup since 1986.

Victory against Greece at Windsor Park on Thursday evening will bring that 30 year hiatus to an end, and bring the nation back to the top level of International football.

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Anticipation is building in Belfast and all around the country as fans who have been with the team through thick and thin prepare for one last push. 1,500 extra ticket sold out in less than three minutes last Thursday and although the ground's redevelopment is yet to be completed, 11,700 fans will be there kicking every ball.

The squad has worked excellently together throughout the campaign. However, certain individuals have really stepped up and lead by example. Kyle Lafferty has barely featured at all for his club side Norwich across the duration of the qualifiers.

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Despite this, he has shown the form of his life in a green shirt and has bagged 7 goals to date, including a 93-minute equaliser against Hungary in his last outing.

Lafferty has been the talisman, but West Brom's Gareth McAuley has put in numerous stand-out displays. Physical and dependable at the back, he has also added three vital goals along the way.

Captain, Steven Davis, has been exemplary in midfield while Niall McGinn's pace on the wing has been a key component of the performances. One more individual piece of brilliance may be enough to see them over the finish line.

Greece has struggled enormously throughout the campaign and prop up the table with just three points from their eight matches. Nevertheless, they are a team who won the European Championships as recently as 2004 and Kostas Mitroglou, in particular, poses a threat up front.

Manager, Michael O'Neill will have several selection headaches as Jonny Evans has been ruled out with a hamstring strain and the aforementioned Lafferty joins Chris Baird and Conor McCloughlin in missing out through suspension.

In Lafferty's absence, it may be between Josh Magennis and Ross County's in-form Liam Boyce to lead the attack while stalwart Aaron Hughes may return at right-back to win his 97 cap.

A loss to Greece would put a lot of pressure on the trip to Finland on Sunday, but positivity surrounds this upcoming fixture. Thursday night could be one of the most memorable nights ever for Northern Irish football.

A victory would signal qualification for the European championships with a game to spare...not bad for a country of less than two million.

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