Wales take on Northern Ireland in Cardiff on Thursday in a duel of two teams that have had impressive Euro 2016 campaigns and that are eager to continue their fine forms ahead of the European Championship final showpiece this summer.
Can Wales cope without Bale?
Wales’ key man and the leader of the team Gareth Bale is forced to miss out through a calf injury, but so is his second in command, Aaron Ramsey, and the two Dragons’ stars are likely to be sorely missed against Northern Ireland. Key man to watch in their absence will be Liverpool’s Joe Allen, who has urged Wales’ fringe players to step up and show their worth to the manager in order to increase their chances of making it into the team that will fight at the Euro 2016 in France. Wales have had an impressive qualifying campaign, finishing second in group stage to reach their first continental championship since 1958 in style, but their most recent losses to Bosnia and Herzegovina in the qualifiers and a friendly defeat to Netherlands will have come as early warning signs for the side that are keeping their ambitions high for the upcoming tournament in France. Wales conceded only four goals in ten qualifiers, but they also scored only 11 and in the absence of Gareth Bale for the game against Northern Ireland, we are likely to witness a silent night from the Dragons.
Shaun MacDonald and Sam Vokes will be vying for the place upfront, along with the recalled Hal Robson-Kanu. James Collins will sit out the game through a hamstring injury, while Andy King is ill.
Unbeaten for a year
Northern Ireland have been one of the biggest surprises of the Euro 2016 qualification as they beat the odds to finish top of the Group F with a point in front of second-placed Romania. Having lost only once during ten-game period, Northern Ireland continued with strong performances even after the qualification process as they did well to beat Iceland 1-0 in a friendly in November. Michael O’Neil’s men have lost only one of their ten qualifying games and are currently on an eight-match unbeaten run extending all the way to March 2015. Heading into the Thursday’s game, Northern Ireland will be relying on Kyle Lafferty to get the goals. Norwich City striker has had a successful campaign during the qualifiers having scored seven goals to help his team book their place in France. However, Northern Ireland striker has not had a single start in the Premier League this season and it could affect his performance in Cardiff.
Conor Washington has received his first call-up to the national team and is likely to be involved to some extent. Chris Brunt has been ruled out through injury and WBA player is likely to miss the Euro 2016 as well. Chris Baird is also unavailable for the upcoming event.
Wales are welcoming their neighbours without two key players Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey, while Northern Ireland’s top scorer Kyle Lafferty is on the margins at his club. Therefore, everything points out to a low-scoring affair in Cardiff and goals remain my first choice for this match.
Top pick: Under 2.5 goals 1.5 (1/2) @Coral
Alternative pick 1: Both teams to score – No 1.72 (13/18) @888sport
Alternative pick 2: Half time Draw 2.00 (1/1) @Bet365