MX23RW : Saturday, July 20 01:24:02| >> :600:84371321:84371321:
Nov 11, 2016 at 7.45pm UK at ​Windsor Park
Northern Ireland
4-0
Azerbaijan
Lafferty (27'), McAuley (40'), McLaughlin (66'), Davis (83')
FT(HT: 2-0)

Live Commentary: Northern Ireland 4-0 Azerbaijan - as it happened

Relive Sports Mole's live text commentary of the World Cup qualifier between Northern Ireland and Azerbaijan at Windsor Park.
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Northern Ireland have moved up to second in their World Cup qualifying group following a 4-0 rout over Azerbaijan at Windsor Park on Friday evening.

Kyle Lafferty, Gareth McAuley, Conor McLaughlin and Steven Davis were among the scorers as the Green Army ended Azerbaijan's three-game unbeaten run.

Michael O'Neill's men now sit second, level on points with this evening's opponents and five adrift of group leaders Germany.

Discover how the game unfolded in Sports Mole's text commentary below.


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Northern Ireland move up to second in Group C thanks to tonight's 4-0 win over Azerbaijan. Many predicted that it would be a tight game due to Azerbaijan's three-game unbeaten run, but Michael O'Neill's men got the job done tonight. Kyle Lafferty, Gareth McAuley, Conor McLaughlin and Steven Davis got the goals this evening, which put the Green Army five points behind leaders Germany. Thanks for joining us tonight, and until next time, goodbye!

FULL-TIME: NORTHERN IRELAND 4-0 AZERBAIJAN

Davis heads across goal and McGinn tries to meet it, but it gets cleared just in the nick of time from the visitors.

The hosts are taking their time on the ball now as they attempt to wind the clock down.

Now it's four! Brunt goes for glory himself with a low shot from the corner of the box, but it's helped in by Davis with a flick and it's game over.

GOAL! NORTHERN IRELAND 4-0 AZERBAIJAN (DAVIS)

SAVE! Almost four for Ireland as McGinn's charging run down the left results in a cut-back for Davis. The midfielder makes his way into the box before drilling a low strike, but the keeper drops down to save.

NORTHERN IRELAND SUB: As expected, Corry Evans has been brought off by O'Neill. McNair is the man to replace him.

It seems as though Evans is feeling the effects of that challenge in his ribs as he signals to the bench that he wants to come off.

BOOKING! Another yellow for Ireland as Corry Evans gets penalised for a rash challenge.

NORTHERN IRELAND SUB: O'Neill is not taking any chances as Ferguson comes off and is replaced by McGinn.

BOOKING! Ferguson is shown a yellow card for a sliding tackle. This means that he will be suspended for the qualifier against Norway in March.

AZERBAIJAN SUB: Makhmudov is the second man to be replaced on the field for the visitors as Nazarov comes on.

Well, Azerbaijan may have been dominating the last few minutes, but it's Ireland who have found another goal and pretty much put this game to bed! It comes from Norwood's set-piece delivery, which finds McLaughlin waiting at the near post. The defender headers it in off the bar.

GOAL! NORTHERN IRELAND 3-0 AZERBAIJAN (MCLAUGHLIN)

Makhmudov tries his luck with a long-range effort, which gets deflected behind for a corner. The visitors take a short, but it comes to nothing as they fail to get the ball into the penalty area.

NORTHERN IRELAND SUB: O'Neill makes his first change of the game as Lafferty makes way for Will Grigg. I wonder what song the home fans will chant...

CHANCE! The ball drops to Dashdemirov on the edge of the penalty box. He tries to curl the ball into the back of the net, but his position lets him down as he leans back and the ball goes over the crossbar.

It's all Azerbaijan at the moment as they hunt for the equaliser. Ismayilov has been pulling the strings and causing lots of problems with his pace.

An opportunity wasted for Ireland! Ferguson tries to capitalise on a poor back pass by the visitors with an interception. The midfielder crosses towards Norwood, who lets a short fly from 25 yards out, but its blocked.

Azerbaijan look a lot more threatening now as they string some passes together and get themselves higher up the pitch.

SAVE! A lovely ball from Ismayilov is sent through for Yilmaz, who unleashes a shot, but McGoven rushes out to block.

Some nervy defending for Azerbaijan as Magennis's long throw is scrambled away on a second attempt.

AZERBAIJAN SUB: The visitors have made a change at the break. Sheydaev makes way for Yilmaz.

RESTART! Northern Ireland get us back underway at Windsor Park! Azerbaijan have some work to do if they want to maintain their unbeaten run.

Northern Ireland head into the half-time interval with a 1-0 lead over Azerbaijan at Windsor Park. It has been a comfortable first 45 minutes for Michael O'Neill's side as they have managed to control the game, with Josh Magennis in particular causing problems down the right-hand side. The first goal came in the 27th minute when Kyle Lafferty smashed home a half-volley from 12 yards out, and the second was scored five minutes before the whistle from a Gareth McAuley header. Can Azerbaijan get themselves back into this game? We'll return for the second half soon to find out!

HALF-TIME: NORTHERN IRELAND 2-0 AZERBAIJAN

Oh dear, that was poor from Azerbaijan. They manage to win a corner and it's taken short before being drilled forward into the box, but it ends up going behind for a goal kick. Nobody was going to reach that!

The fourth official indicates four minutes of added time, and that will be down to the earlier collision involving Brunt.

The hosts win a corner and Brunt swings it into the box, but the ball is too high and misses every green shirt in the box. Ireland are sensing a third goal here.

The resulting free kick ends up as a second goal for the Green Army! Brunt delivers the set piece from deep, and it's McAuley who meets it and directs the ball into the back of the net with a strong header. O'Neill's side are in a commanding position!

GOAL! NORTHERN IRELAND 2-0 AZERBAIJAN (MCAULEY)

BOOKING! The first man to be cautioned is Makhmudov, who gets penalised for a sliding tackle on McLaughlin.

Magennis once again breaks away from his marker as he delivers two crosses into the box in quick succession, but he fails to find a teammate both times.

Lafferty isn't happy after failing to win a free kick. Medvedev pretty much smashes into the Irish striker to stop him from connecting with a high ball. The referee let's it go, though.

The hosts look comfortable at the moment as they try to maintain their lead, and even though Azerbaijan have had more possession in the last few minutes, they have struggled to create some threat.

If the game stays this way or Northern Ireland extend their advantage, they will move up to second in Group C, behind Germany.

Ireland get that all-important goal! Magennis sends a long throw and it's flicked on into the middle of the box, where Lafferty connects with it on the half-volley 12 yards out and sends the ball into the back of the net.

GOAL! NORTHERN IRELAND 1-0 AZERBAIJAN (LAFFERTY)

SAVE! Magennis does well to break away from his opponent before darting into the box. The forward lets a shot fly, but the keeper pushes the ball clear.

Northern Ireland are dominating possession now and are controlling the pace of the game, but their goalscoring chances have so far been few and far between.

McLaughlin sends the ball through the defence, but it gets deflected behind for a corner, which is whipped in by Brunt. The hosts are unable to make the most of it, though, as the whistle blows after McAuley is caught pushing.

Hurrah, Brunt's been given the green light to play on! He too has a white bandage wrapped around his head.

Medvedev has been bandaged up and risen to his feet. Brunt is still down getting treatment. This is his first appearance for his country in 13 months, so let's hope he's ok to continue.

Brunt appears to have hurt himself while going for the ball as he clashes with Medvedev. He and his opponent are getting treatment from medics.

CHANCE! Ireland launch a long throw into the penalty area. The ball bounces and Brunt reaches it with a header, but he nods the ball directly to the goalkeeper.

CHANCE! McLaughlin cuts back before sending a cross towards Ferguson, who catches it on the volley, but his effort smashes into the side netting.

Azerbaijan launch a counter-attack and the ball is directed towards Sheydaev in the box. The forward unleashes a shot from close range, but it gets blocked.

Lafferty receives the ball in a dangerous area and tries to nudge it forwards for another green shirt, but the move breaks down.

The hosts are finding their feet now and are seeing more of the ball. The weather seems to be getting worse, though. It's chucking it down with rain!

Northern Ireland get their first opportunity to attack as Makhmudov would Corry Evans close to the halfway line. The free kick is delivered towards the back post for McAuley, whose header across goal is cleared.

The ball is whipped in from the corner flag and Ismayilov meets it, he aims for the goal from 12 yards out, but his header misses the target. A quick start from the visitors!

Azerbaijan get the first corner of the game as Brunt flicks the ball behind after Ismayilov crosses the ball into the box. It was a crucial touch from Brunt as there was a red shirt waiting behind him.

KICKOFF! We're underway at Windsor Park! It's a wet evening in Belfast, but let's hope the football on the pitch won't mirror the weather!

Both teams are out on the pitch and we will have a minute's silence to commemorate Armistice Day before kickoff.

PREDICTION: This could be a difficult match for the Green Army considering the form that Azerbaijan are in. However, Ireland are the home side and have enough to get the three points tonight. We'll go for a 1-0 win.

HEAD TO HEAD: This is the fifth time that Northern Ireland and Azerbaijan have played one another. It has been an even contest so far, with both nations winning one each, while the other two games were drawn. The home side in these matches have never lost.

Ahead of the game, Prosinecki, who has played for both Barcelona and Real Madrid, told reporters:

"I believe we have a good team with good players and I think we have surprised a lot of people in European football.

"We are a good team and we want to show it's not just luck, that we have good players. We are 100% motivated, we might lose but our players will give 100% and be able to say they have given everything."


STATS! Azerbaijan are just one of four teams in the qualifiers that have not conceded a goal. They are joined by Germany, England and Belgium - not bad company! They have also never qualified for a major tournament, but they are in a strong position to make the finals in Russia at the moment.

Next up, Azerbaijan welcomed Norway to their home ground, and again, a single goal sealed maximum points. The breakthrough was made early when Medvedev struck in the 11th minute, but there was no way back for Norway as they failed to find an equaliser. Azerbaijan's strong form continued as they held the Czech Republic to a goalless draw last month, stretching their unbeaten run to three games in the qualifying campaign.

So, how have 88th-ranked Azerbaijan been getting on then? Well, not many would have tipped the nation to be second in the group behind Germany, but that's exactly where they have found themselves. Prosinecki's side took on San Marino away in their opening Group C fixture and claimed a 1-0 win following a 45th-minute goal from Ruslan Gurbanov. Their opponents went down to 10 men early in the second half after Cristian Brolli was shown a straight red, but they did not really capitalise. In the end, the single goal was enough for three points.

Jonny Evans is also concerned that Azerbaijan could cause some problems for Ireland this evening.

The West Bromwich Albion defender told the press: "The expectations on us as a team have risen dramatically and I do think for Azerbaijan as well. They're sitting well in the group and I'm sure they will be pleased with how they've started.

"The last game against them at home, we equalised late on, [but] I think we were in control in that game. I know back then we were disappointed with the result. I think now it would be even more so and it would really derail our campaign if we were to perform like that again. It would be disappointing for us to perform like that.

"In terms of how we approach the game, we're in a better mindset and we've got a much clearer plan going into the game of how we're going to win."

Jonny Evans of Northern Ireland celebrates after the EURO 2016 Group F qualifier at Windsor Park on March 29, 2015 in Belfast, Northern Ireland.© Getty Images


O'Neill is well aware of the threat that Azerbaijan pose. Earlier this week he told reporters:

"Azerbaijan have never qualified for a major tournament. When you're in that situation you need to get out of the blocks, they've done it.

"They've managed to get momentum and with that will have belief and confidence. They will have belief they can finish in the top-two position. I see similarities certainly in terms of where we came from, how our confidence grew and how they are obviously capable of doing that as well.

"Our job is to create a roadblock and make it as difficult as possible there."

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards 2015.© Getty Images


DID YOU KNOW? Northern Ireland are in their best run of form on home soil in 32 years having triumphed in their last five fixtures at Windsor Park. However, they have not scored in six of their last eight matches, and considering that they are going up against the surprise package of the group who are yet to concede a goal, Ireland could have a problem.

Ireland were riding high from that qualifier, but they faced a sterner test away to Germany in October. The visiting side only had 25% possession during the entire game and out of four of their shots, two were on target. Germany peppered Ireland's goal with 25 attempts, but only five were on target. In the end, first-half goals from Julian Draxler and Sami Khedira condemned Ireland to defeat.

Ireland had 74% possession and could have had plenty more than four goals as they actually produced 15 shots on target, while their lowly competitors could not find the target once. It was a night to forget for San Marino as they also went a man down in the 50th minute when Mirko Palazzi was sent off for a second bookable offence.

Ireland's next qualifier was on home turf in Belfast against San Marino and it was a much more dominant performance from O'Neill's men. They scored four times - the first of which came from the penalty spot and Steven Davis was the man to convert it just before the half-hour mark. The other three goals were scored in the final 15 minutes as Kyle Laffery nabbed two and Jamie Ward one.

Right, let's get back to matters on the pitch, shall we? As mentioned, Ireland currently sit third in Group C on four points, three points behind Azerbaijan and five adrift of Germany. O'Neill's side kicked off their qualifying campaign with a game against the Czech Republic on away soil. Ireland were on the back foot for the majority of the clash as they only had 35% possession. They also had 10 fewer shots on goal than the Croats, but they had three on target compared to their opponents' one. In the end, nothing could separate the pair and a point was shared.

The world governing body warns teams against displaying political or religious symbols on kits, but England and Scotland are going to defy the rule by having poppies emblazoned on black armbands for tonight's match. As for Northern Ireland, they are not going to risk a ban from FIFA so are instead going to wear black armbands this evening.

While football will be the focus tonight, there have been moments of remembrance throughout the day as we commemorate Armistice Day. Tributes have been paid to the men and women who have sacrificed their lives while in combat for the armed forces. Some controversy has marred the build-up to today's matches due to FIFA's stance on not allowing the home nations to have the poppy symbol sewn into the players' shirts.

O'Neill has made three changes to the side that were beaten by Germany in their last outing. Chris Brunt comes back into the team for the first time in 13 months after recovering from injury, while Conor McLaughlin comes into the defence. Kyle Lafferty will lead the line alongside Josh Magennis. Lee Hodson, Aaron Hughes and Jamie Ward miss out, while Conor Washington doesn't start because of a groin strain. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan are without their captain Rashad Sadygov due to injury.

AZERBAIJAN XI: Agayev; Dashdemirov, Mirzabekov, Medvedev, Guseynov; Garayev, Mahmudov, Amirguliyev, Ismailov; Sheydayev, Gurbanov

NORTHERN IRELAND XI: McGovern; McLaughlin, McAuley, J. Evans, Brunt; Davis, Norwood, C. Evans, Ferguson; Magennis, Lafferty

Right, let's bring you the lineups, shall we?

As for Azerbaijan, they are currently the closest challengers to Germany's top spot. The champions' advantage currently sits at two points. Prosinecki's side are yet to suffer defeat in the qualifying campaign as they have won two and drawn one so far, and have kept clean sheets in all three.

The team were drawn alongside Norway, Czech Republic, San Marino, Azerbaijan and reigning world champions Germany in Group C. So far, it has gone well given that they have taken points from games against the Czechs and San Marino, but they failed to get past Germany.

Life has looked rosy for Northern Ireland ever since they reached the last 16 of the European Championships in the summer. It was an unfortunate exit for the nation as they were beaten by Wales because of an own goal from Gareth McAuley. Despite that, the atmosphere around the camp has been positive heading into the qualifying campaign.

Evening everyone! This week belongs to the international teams as we continue the qualifying campaign for the 2018 World Cup. Plenty of eyes will be on Wembley this evening as England and Scotland go head to head, but there is also a big game in Belfast, where Northern Ireland have the chance to go second in Group C. We will bring you all of the action as Michael O'Neill's team play Azerbaijan at Windsor Park.

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Michael O'Neill during the Euro 2016 Group C match between Ukraine and Northern Ireland on July 16, 2016
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