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Slovenia win has Hughes eyeing finals

Aaron Hughes would love to lead Northern Ireland into a major championship.

Hughes was a rock at the back along with Stephen Craigan as their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign got off to a perfect start.

Substitute Corry Evans, making his first competitive outing, was the match-winner in the 1-0 victory against Slovenia in Maribor. He swept the ball home at the back post in the 70th minute following a low cross from Craig Cathcart on his debut.

Northern Ireland then manned the barricades to stun the hosts, surprise participants in the World Cup finals.

Next up are Italy at Windsor Park on October 8 with Serbia, Estonia and the Faroe Islands in the group too.

Fulham defender Hughes, who handed the captain's armband to Craigan as he was winning his 50th cap, said: "We know our strengths, we also know our weaknesses, we know what works for us.

"If we stick to that, hopefully we can have a successful campaign and take that extra step to actually get to a finals. How good would that be?

"It's a tough group, but that doesn't lower expectations. We are setting out to qualify, no matter how difficult that might be."

Hughes believes there is a good blend in the squad that leaves him optimistic about the future.

"We've got lads who have been about for a couple of campaigns and they are still young players," he said.

"Add that experience to the enthusiasm and promise of the young lads coming through, the likes of Johnny Gorman, Corry Evans and Craig Cathcart, you have that nice mix."

Italy, under new coach Cesare Prandelli, came from behind to defeat Estonia 2-1 in their opening qualifier.