Northern Ireland play host to New Zealand in an international friendly match at Windsor Park on Friday as both sides begin preparations for an important period ahead of them.
World Cup in Sight
Michael O’Neil’s men will entertain New Zealand in the forthcoming friendly, but their minds will definitely be in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers. Northern Ireland has made a solid start to their qualifying campaign and with the domestic season over, O’Neil’s team will view the New Zealand fixture as an ideal opportunity to preserve the sharpness and firing edge. The Green and White Army collected 10 points from five fixtures in Group C and are sitting in second with five points less than leaders Germany. O’Neil’s side harbours a realistic chance of making it to Russia through the ranking of second-placed teams and will use the forthcoming clash to gear up for their trip to Azerbaijan less than ten days from now. The Belfast boys will be looking to keep the momentum and grab a much-needed win which would help them keep Czech Republic at an arm’s length.
Michael O’Neil welcomes fresh faces in his squad as fitness concerns over Gareth McAuley and Craig Cathcart remain. Kyle Lafferty is lacking match fitness, whereas Jamie Ward and Will Grigg are injured. Additionally, Corry Evans and Paddy McNair remain out of the team, while Conor Washington is getting married.
Confederations Cup Coming
New Zealand will be hoping for a positive result against Northern Ireland as they continue the preparations for this month’s Confederations Cup in Russia. Anthony Hudson’s men have been pitted alongside Mexico and European champions Portugal, as well as the host nation, which makes them the outsiders in the group. New Zealand will therefore consider their Northern Ireland challenge to be a solid test ahead of the Confederations Cup kick off. All Whites travel to Northern Ireland in fine form, having been beaten only once in their last 16 fixtures. It needs to be noted, however, that All Whites have been having some issues in scoring department seeing that they only managed six goals in last four World Cup qualifiers against weak opponents and that is an aspect of New Zealand’s game Anthony Hudson will be hoping to fix. Leeds United striker Chris Wood can perhaps offer a solution for New Zealand woes as he is coming off from a successful season in the Championship. Wood scored 27 goals for his club, but his influence in the national team has been rather limited thus far.
West Ham defender Winston Reid was carrying an injury, but could be fit to play, whereas Anthony Hudson left Moses Dyer, Jai Ingham and Jake Gleeson out of the squad.
Northern Ireland must be considered firm favourites at Windsor even though New Zealand have suffered only one defeat in their last seven matches on the road. Anthony Hudson’s low-scoring side will have trouble penetrating Northern Ireland’s defences, seeing that home side kept clean sheets in last two World Cup matches.
Top pick: Northern Ireland 1.62 (8/13) @WilliamHill
Alternative pick 1: Both teams to score – no 1.62 (8/13) @BetVictor
Alternative pick 2: Norther Ireland to win to Nil 2.30 (13/10) @Ladbrokes