Northern Ireland – Belarus (24.03.2019)

EUROPE: Euro – Qualification – Round 2

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill’s only prior managerial encounter with Belarus ended in a 3-0 victory back in May 2016. His team’s chances of following that up with another win to nil over the eastern Europeans seem high on paper.
Though ranked 42 places above Belarus by FIFA, Northern Ireland take to the field having only recently arrested a run of just two victories from the 13 games prior to their midweek victory over Estonia (W2, D3, L8). Five of those defeats were ‘to nil’, although three came against teams ranked higher than themselves.
Matches at Windsor Park are usually entertaining affairs. Four of the last five matches here have produced over 2.5 goals. This lends relevance to the fact that Belarus travel poorly, having conceded 2.29 goals per game on average, across their last seven away matches against top-50 ranked nations (W1, L6).
Belarus are still reeling from a heavy defeat at the hands of the resurgent Netherlands last time out (4-0) and now face their second international flight this week. Perhaps lacking sharpness because of that, their chances of suffering a defeat to nil seem high, especially as ten of Belarus’ last 11 matches have seen at least one team fail to score.
Players to watch: Northern Ireland’s Niall McGinn extended his scoring record to three consecutive matches for club and country last time out. All three goals were the first of each match.
Meanwhile, Stanislas Dragun led the way for Belarus in the 2018/19 UEFA Nations League (five goals, two assists).
Stat attack: Northern Ireland have not drawn at home since a 1-1 stalemate vs Hungary in September 2015.
Going back to November 2014, each of Belarus’ last three Euro qualifier away defeats have seen them concede 3+ goals.
Northern Ireland’s last four home wins in Euro qualifiers have produced an exact two-goal margin and/or seen them win the first half.