Football/Soccer

Northern Ireland boss keeping fingers crossed ahead of World Cup play-offs

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill has announced his squad for the World Cup play-off games against Switzerland.

RUNNING the risk of playing for their club without getting injured is the challenge Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill wants his squad to pass over the next six days.

The World Cup play-offs against Switzerland await on November 9 and 12 but O'Neill is keen for more of his expanded squad of 27 to get game-time ahead of those crucial matches.

"The one concern would be the number of players that didn't play so, between now and meeting up on Sunday, we need to hope we are as game-ready as possible.

"There is a full [English] league programme of fixtures [tonight] and the games at the weekend so it would be good for the boys to get minutes.

O'Neill will hope in particular not to get any bitter news from the John Smith's Stadium on Saturday where Huddersfield Town will host West Bromwich Albion.

The visitors have three of the NI defence in their ranks, namely Gareth McAuley, Jonny Evans, and Chris Brunt, and none of played much recently, although the first two did start against league leaders Manchester City on Saturday past.

O'Neill was particularly pleased to see McAuley in the line-up, saying: ""Yeah, I saw at the weekend, 68 minutes I think he got, and no stiffer test than Man City as well. Gareth is always going to come ready to play, and his experience will always be a major asset even if he's not playing club football. But there are just those wee, tiny things that you need to sharpen you for coming into the game.

"It's good that Jonny [Evans] came through the game as well, that was a big plus for us as well – we know how important those two players and Chris [Brunt] are.

"Chris hasn't played since Norway at club level, but sometimes that's not a bad thing, players come and they have a real hunger then to play.

"Certainly my fingers will be crossed over the weekend that everybody on that sheet comes through unscathed."

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Football/Soccer