In the UEFA Nations League, Northern Ireland will be traveling to Greece on Tuesday, and their standing in League C is a concern for them as they prepare for the match.
After taking the first four matches of the current season and winning all of them, the hosts have already ensured themselves a spot in League B.
Our Match Preview: Greece vs Northern Ireland
Indeed, Greece will feel ready to play at a level more right of their skill and reputation on the European scene after falling short of promotion from League C in each of the past two Nations League campaigns.
The defending champions from Euro 2004 came out firing on all cylinders this time around, going undefeated through their first four games until suffering a narrow 1-0 defeat to Cyprus on Saturday.
The team coached by Gus Poyet had the ball for 71% of the game, but they were unable to convert their many possessions into goals, losing by a single goal against Marinos Tzionis in the 18th minute.
But thanks to their win against Kosovo, Northern Ireland can rest easy knowing their six-point advantage over the Kosovars is secure with only one game left. In a thrilling finish, Josh Magennis scored in stoppage time to give Ian Baraclough’s team its first victory of the current Nations League season.
Kosovo’s hopes of finishing first in the group appeared to be alive after Vedat Muriqi scored the game’s only goal in the 58th minute. However, Northern Ireland responded 25 minutes later through Gavin Whyte, and then Magennis scored in stoppage time to ensure that the team’s fate would remain in their own hands despite Tuesday’s trip to Greece.
Due to Cyprus’ victory against Greece, however, the Green and White Army will enter the last day of the tournament tied for second place with the Cypriots and one point behind Kosovo.
Northern Ireland must achieve the same or better outcome than Cyprus when the two countries meet on Tuesday if they want any hope of survival.
After ending a streak of five consecutive losses, they should feel confident that they can at least draw in Athens against a squad that has nothing at stake other than pride.
Our Team News: Greece vs Northern Ireland
After serving their one-match suspensions for their roles in Greece’s loss to Cyprus, Petros Mantalos and Georgios Giakoumakis will be rejoining the team.
Greece will be happy to have them back. Dinos Koulierakis will be hoping to make his debut with the Greek national team at some point in the future even though he was an unused replacement in Larnaca.
In the meanwhile, Northern Ireland will continue to play without Stuart Dallas because of a knee injury. Whyte is vying for a starting spot after scoring an important equalizer off the bench against Kosovo.
However, Baraclough may look to add another defender or midfielder to his starting XI to make his team more difficult to defeat, with Shane Ferguson receiving the nod.
Whyte is vying for a starting spot after scoring an important equalizer off the bench against Kosovo.
- Greece possible starting lineup: Vlachodimos, Baldock, Mavropanos, Hatzidiakos, Tsimikas; Mantalos, Siopis, Kourbelis, Bakasetas, Giakoumakis, Masouras
- Northern Ireland possible starting lineup: Peacock-Farrell, McNair, Evans, Flanagan, Lewis, Bradley, Davis, Evans, Saville, Ferguson, Magennis
Our Prediction: Greece 1-1 Northern Ireland
We expect that Northern Ireland will take a hard stance against Greece and make things extremely tough for them.
Greece seemed to be a team that was going through the motions in their loss to Cyprus over the weekend.
Since it is probable that the visitors just need one point to remain in League C, Baraclough may decide to focus his team’s efforts on preventing loss as their primary aim rather than winning the game.