Northern Ireland’s rag-tag band of journeymen have generally proved to be greater as a team than the sum of their parts suggested over the past decade of international football qualifying, and they look a fine price at 2/1 to make Euro 2016 following a fine opening-fixture win in Hungary.
Former Rangers man Kyle Lafferty, the 26-year-old who was got rid of by newly-promoted Serie A side Palermo this summer, with the Italians’ president Mauricio Zamparini insistent that the striker is an ‘out-of-control womaniser’, grabbed the winner after Niall McGinn had equalised late on.
The expansion of the European championships has thrown up some pretty wretched contests, but few can compare in terms of mediocrity to Group F, which contains Greece, Romania, Finland and San Marino alongside Michael O’Neill’s Green and White Army and their vanquished opponents.
A quick glance through the last five Northern Ireland qualifying campaigns shows that, while none have been successful, wins were attained at home to Russia, Poland, Denmark, Spain, Latvia, Sweden, England and Azerbaijan, plus home and away against Slovenia.
They’ve also drawn home and away against Portugal and claimed points from clashes with Czech Republic, Austria and Poland.
All-time top scorer David Healey may no longer be around to play miles better for his country than for any club, but Group F’s mid-to-low ranked nations will hold no fear for O’Neill’s men after years of unfulfilled over-achievement.
Greece were rated most likely to top the mini-league before losing their first fixture at home to 10-man Romania, who have qualified for just one major tournament since 2000 but suddenly find themselves at the head of the betting (5/4) to best all around them.
Finland were nothing special away to the Faroe Islands, going into the break 1-0 down before rallying back to triumph 3-1, so Northern Ireland can at least feel confident of snagging third place and a play-off tie, although first and second may also be very much up for grabs.
In captain Steven Davis, McGinn and Lafferty, who has played a part in each of new club Norwich’s five Championship games so far, Northern Ireland have some quality dotted through their team, but their playing pool never seems strong, yet they always show up in qualifying.
Expanding the Euros was put in motion in order to benefit countries the size O’Neill’s, and his boys look the best bet available to get back amongst the elite, having reached World Cups in 1958, 1982 and 1986.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
Fancy a flutter? Sign up today to claim up to £100 in free bets.