Saturday 18 November 2017

5 talking points ahead of Northern Ireland v Czech Republic

Michael McGovern could pass the 10-hour mark without conceding
Michael McGovern could pass the 10-hour mark without conceding

Northern Ireland will look to take a big step towards reaching Russia next summer when the Czech Republic visit Windsor Park for Monday's World Cup qualifier.

A point will be enough for Michael O'Neill's side to secure second spot in Group C, with eight of the nine group runners-up then advancing to November's play-offs to determine who will make the finals in 2018.

Here Press Association Sport details what to look out for in the Czechs' trip to Belfast.

WILL A POINT BE ENOUGH IN THE GRAND SCHEME OF THINGS?

Friday's Group C results worked perfectly for O'Neill's side, who are now seven points clear with three to play. Draw on Monday and they are guaranteed second, though they know that one of the nine runners-up will not go to the November play-offs. Given their last two games are against dominant world champions Germany and an improving Norway, this represents their best opportunity to claim a victory that should be enough for a play-off berth. It is for that reason that the hosts will not set up just to take a point on Monday.

THE WINDSOR PARK FACTOR

Recent history is against the Czechs as none of the previous eight nations to have visited Belfast for a competitive game have emerged victorious. Portugal were the last team to win a qualifier there, and they needed a 15-minute Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick in their come-from-behind victory in 2013. This Czech side is lacking such star quality and will be facing an expectant crowd the hosts are hoping to feed off to get them over the line.

MICHAEL McGOVERN'S CLEAN SHEET RUN

It is 517 minutes since Northern Irish keeper McGovern was last beaten by Sami Khedira in Hanover and a sixth international clean sheet in a row would take him beyond 10 hours without conceding. In this campaign, Germany are the only team to have scored against Northern Ireland, who have conceded the joint fewest goals across Europe after the seven qualifiers.

WHAT HAVE THE CZECHS BEEN KEEPING IN RESERVE?

When choosing his XI to face Germany on Friday, it was obvious Karel Jarolim had prioritised the trip to Belfast three days later. He made six changes and left out four players - Pavel Kaderabek, Borek Dockal, Tomas Horava and Ladislav Krejci - who were one booking away from a suspension. O'Neill acknowledged it may be tough to try and second-guess their visitors and Jarolim will hope his gamble pays off having nearly taken a point off the Germans with those he brought in.

THE RETURN OF CORRY EVANS?

A favourite of O'Neill's in the past, particularly for games that are expected to be tight, a groin problem has restricted central midfielder Evans to just 183 minutes in this qualifying campaign. Twelve of those came in San Marino on Friday and O'Neill admitted he was "particularly in my thoughts for Monday". He may be the only change with Kyle Lafferty likely the odd man out in a switch from 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3/4-5-1.

Press Association

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