Northern Ireland and Slovakia will battle it out on Thursday (7:45pm kick-off) for a place at next summer’s European Championships.
Ian Baraclough’s men finished third in Group C six and eight points behind the Netherlands and Germany, respectively, but nine points clear of fourth-placed Belarus.
Northern Ireland do, however, head into this fixture off the back of consecutive 1-0 defeats to Norway and Austria. Baraclough will be expecting a big performance from his forward line if the Green and White Army are to enjoy a second consecutive European Championship finals appearance.
Slovakia, meanwhile, finished third in a hotly contested Group E, a point ahead of Hungary and behind automatic qualifiers Wales by the same margin. Like Northern Ireland, Pavel Hapal’s men come into this fixture having suffered back-to-back defeats to Scotland (1-0) and Israel (3-2) last time out.
Both sides will fancy their chances of qualification, which makes this match-up that much harder to call.
Where to watch Northern Ireland vs Slovakia on TV:
- UK: Sky Sports Premier League
- US: TUDNxtra
Where to live stream Northern Ireland vs Slovakia:
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Northern Ireland & Slovakia’s previous line-ups:
- Northern Ireland (vs Norway): Carson*; Smith, Ballard, Evans*, Flanagan, Ferguson; Thompson, Evans, Saville; Magennis, Washington.
- Slovakia (vs Israel): Greif; Pekarik, Vavro, Valjent, Mazan; Hrosovsky, Hamsik; Rusnak, Duda, Mak; Bozenik.
Having missed their previous two games due to a back injury, Jonny Evans returned to action for Leicester City at the weekend and is expected to start for Northern Ireland in this key clash. Motherwell goalkeeper Trevor Carson is out until early next year, Celtic’s Conor Hazard has been called up in his place. Rangers’ Jordan Jones has been omitted from the squad.
Inter defender Milan Skriniar is unavailable due to travel restrictions, severely damaging the quality of Slovakia’s defence.
Players to watch:
- Northern Ireland: Steven Davis was left on the bench against Norway last time out but it would be a huge surprise if he wasn’t recalled to the starting XI here. With 112 caps under his belt, Davis is immensely experienced, which could prove key in a make-or-break match like this, while his 10 goals in qualifying matches for Northern Ireland prove his ability to step up in big moments. Davis can deliver a wicked ball into the box but his key role here might well be keeping tabs on Marek Hamsik, who found the net against Israel in Slovakia’s last match.
- Slovakia: Hamsik is the obvious threat for Northern Ireland, but another player Baraclough must keep an eye on is Albert Rusnak. The 26-year-old forward only managed four goals and two assists for MLS side Real Salt Lake during the 2020 season, but did grab 10 goals and three assists in 2019, while he’s netted five times in 27 senior caps for Slovakia so far. Rusnak is a set-piece specialist, so avoiding fouls around their own box will be key for Northern Ireland, while he’s quick across the ground and loves to cut inside to get one-on-one with opposition centre-backs. With no natural goalscorers through the middle, Rusnak might well hold the key for qualification for Slovakia.