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Northern Ireland close to ending 30 years of hurt

07 Sep | BY Betway | MIN READ TIME |
Northern Ireland close to ending 30 years of hurt

Michael O’Neill’s side can qualify for their first ever European Championship by defeating Hungary in Belfast on Monday

The last time Northern Ireland qualified for a major international tournament, more than half of the side who took to the field against the Faroe Islands on Friday had not even been born.

Yet having registered another victory from that game to move to the top of Group F, Michael O’Neill’s side now stand on the brink of making history by qualifying for their first ever European Championship.

Having already seen Wales be made to wait by Israel on Sunday, hopes will be high that they can finish the job before the next international break by beating Hungary on home soil.

Kyle Lafferty already has six goals in seven games during this campaign, including the winner away to Monday night’s opposition exactly one year ago.

Despite barely figuring for Norwich City this season after arriving from Palermo, the striker still managed to notch against the Faroes on Friday and is 10/1 to score first in a Northern Ireland win on Monday.

Gareth McAuley is also a constant threat at set pieces, scoring two against the Faroes on his way to becoming Northern Ireland’s second top scorer during qualifying.

The West Brom defender is 7/1 to extend that impressive record by scoring at any time on Monday.

However, despite the excitement of the occasion do not be surprised if Michael O’Neill chooses to take a more pragmatic approach on the night.

The reality is that his side need just three points from three games to ensure qualification, and, with games at home to rock-bottom Greece and away to fourth-placed Finland still to come, they have plenty of time to bank the required amount.

With Romania likely to take maximum points from their game against Greece, Hungary on the other hand know that only a win will do if they are to stay in touch at the top – and so will be likely to go on the offensive from the off.

Unbeaten at Windsor Park and having conceded just one goal in three games, Northern Ireland will be happy to sit back and absorb their pressure if it means keeping them at arm’s length until the final round of fixtures in October.

Hungary are no fools on their travels however, with seven of their 12 points coming away from home.

They may have only scored three goals in three matches, but that has been enough to beat both Finland and the Faroe Islands 1-0 – a score line they are 6/1 to repeat on Monday.

Northern Ireland know that nights like this do not come around very often, and, on the tenth anniversary of David Healy’s famous winner against England, they will be primed for another party to remember.

Yet with a point being more than enough to keep them on track during a campaign that has been built on being measured and methodical, the champagne may need to be kept on ice for a little while longer.

After all, when you have waited 30 years for such a celebration, what difference does another month make?

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