It has been another heroic qualification attempt by Northern Ireland, but with a trip to Italy still to come, they ideally need to beat Serbia in Belfast to sustain the fight for second…
Serbia are the only side to have conquered the constant overachievers so far in Euro 2012 qualifying Group C, coming from behind to defeat them 2-1 in an empty stadium in Belgrade in March, and are 11/10 to repeat the trick and climb past them into third.
However, a turbulent campaign for Vladimir Petrovic’s men has provided little travelling success, their 3-0 victory away to Faroe Islands unable to compensate for a draw in Estonia and the crowd trouble-enforced gift of three points to Italy.
Throw Northern Ireland’s much admired competitive record at Windsor Park, where they have lost just one of their last 13 games, into the mix, and you have a compelling case for backing either the draw at 23/10 or the hosts at 5/2.
Given that Nigel Worthington’s team have won nine of those aforementioned 13 fixtures, there is a strong argument for favouring the more ambitious of those options, while the double chance which covers both is offered at around 7/10.
Something has to give tonight because Northern Ireland didn’t leak a single goal at home to Italy, Slovenia or Faroe Islands, yet Serbia have scored in every match barring the abandoned Italy one which was declared a 3-0 triumph for the Azzurri.
As the initial meeting between the pair finished 2-1, it appears that both nations to score at 11/10 and over 2.5 goals at 11/8 are more likely than the Northern Ireland clean sheet at 12/5, with another 2-1 home win available at 12/1.
Celtic winger Paddy McCourt had his coming-of-age display against Faroe Islands last month, netting twice, and is 7/2 to strike again, with odds of 10/1 offered on him grabbing the opener.