Seven years ago, Northern Ireland won more games in their Euro 2008 qualification campaign than in any other effort to reach a major tournament.
The six wins the side claimed were filled with dreamy highs. Spain – the same side that were to go on and win that tournament and boasted otherworldly talents like Casillas, Villa, Xavi and Raul – were sent packing from Windsor Park with a 3-2 loss. Elsewhere, Sweden and Denmark were also dispatched.
David Healy, the country’s iconic and record-breaking striker, scored six goals in those three victories. In fact, he scored more goals in qualifying than anyone else. More than Villa, more than Cristiano Ronaldo and Robin van Persie, Thierry Henry and Andriy Shevchenko.
And yet, the Green and White Army didn’t make the trip to Austria and Switzerland later that summer. Deflation didn’t even cut it.
Now, Michael O’Neill’s side have the chance to break that record. Wins from their final two games in Group F would make this the country’s most successful campaign ever, but they only need one to send them to dreamland.
The 2015 vintage will take to the field in Belfast knowing that three points against Greece will send them to a first ever European Championships. This time, however, they’ll have to do it without their modern-day Healy.
Kyle Lafferty’s seven goals doesn’t top the qualification’s scoring charts, but has him level with Wayne Rooney and Edin Dzeko and just three behind leader Robert Lewandowski. He is suspended for the Greek clash, but thankfully the visitors don’t pose the toughest of tests.
The 2004 European champions have been far removed from their glorious predecessors in qualifying, scoring just two goals and going winless in eight outings.
Ladbrokes make the hosts tentative favourites for the game, at 8/5, with the visitors at 9/4 and the draw splitting them at 7/4.
There has, however, never been a draw when the two nations have met. In fact, four of the five historic meetings have been won to nil, with both sides claiming two each.
Considering those failings in front of goal, Northern Ireland’s price to qualify in the ultimate style, with a win to nil at 12/5 odds look too good to turn down.
Alternatively, you take the opposite route and back Ladbrokes’ special price boost that the hosts win and both teams score, which was 11/2 and is now 7/1.
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All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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