MX23RW : Tuesday, October 16 13:14:11
May 27, 2016 at 7.45pm UK at ​Windsor Park
Northern Ireland
Lafferty (6'), Washington (44'), Grigg (88')
Evans (60')
FT(HT: 2-0)

Kislyak (60'), Martynovich (64'), Sivakov (81')

Preview: Northern Ireland vs. Belarus

Sports Mole previews Friday evening's friendly fixture between Northern Ireland and Belarus at Windsor Park.

Northern Ireland play host to Belarus on Friday evening in their final fixture at Windsor Park ahead of this summer's European Championship finals in France.

The Green and White Army will be desperate to put on a big performance in their send-off match in Belfast, before attention can slowly turn towards a huge month to come in the nation's proud history.

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland's midfielder Steven Davis (L) celebrates with teammates after scoring the opening goal during the UEFA Euro 2016 qualifying Group F football match between Northern Ireland and Greece at Windsor Park in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on Octobe© Getty Images

While supporters may still be taking in what was an incredible qualifying campaign, manager Michael O'Neill has been working behind the scenes to put the wheels in place for his side's Euro preparations.

This fixture, the former Shamrock Rovers boss hopes, will provide a sufficient enough test for what is to come when Ireland face Poland, Ukraine and world champions Germany in a tricky-looking group.

O'Neill hand-picked Belarus after being selected in a group with two other Eastern European sides, hoping to use this Belfast showdown as a chance to adapt to the typical playing style expected from Poland and Ukraine.

A first successful qualification campaign in 30 years now under their belts, Ireland know that they will have to once more exceed expectations in France if they are to progress into the knockout stages of what is a bloated competition this time around.

The odds were very much against them at the start of this campaign, though, when being plucked out of pot five to face Romania, Greece, Hungary, Finland and the Faroe Islands - a group they topped in some style.

Northern Ireland have now actually racked up 10 games without defeat across competitive and friendly fixtures, drawing with Wales and Qatar while also beating Latvia and Slovenia to add to their impressive group-stage record.

Results over the past 11 months have a parallel feel to them - draw, win, draw, win, draw, win, draw, win - suggesting that the Green and White Army are perhaps on course for a stalemate in their final home friendly before setting south.

O'Neill has also arranged a week-long training camp in Austria for the start of next month, before visiting Slovakia in Trnava for one final 90-minute clash which will help to determine, if it is not already apparent, his starting lineup for the Euro 2016 opener with Poland on June 12.

As many as 30,000 travelling Norn Iron supporters are expected in France next month, so what better way to begin a potential six-week long party than by prolonging their unbeaten run to an 11th game on home soil on Friday night.

Recent form: DWDWDW


Slovakia's Peter Pekarik fights for the ball with Belarus' Sergei Balanovich during the UEFA Euro 2016 qualifying football match between Belarus and Slovakia in Borisov some 100 km from Minsk on October 12, 2014© Getty Images

Belarus may just feel as though they are missing out on the big party this summer because, while 24 other UEFA nations are preparing to lock horns, they will be left at home once again.

The Eastern European outfit have failed to qualify for any of the 11 finals competitions they have entered since disbanding from the Soviet Union three decades ago, with their latest attempt ending in an all-too-familiar manner.

Alyaksandr Khatskevich's charges finished fourth, albeit in a group containing heavyweights Spain and tough opposition in Slovakia and Ukraine, making this friendly fixture a dead-rubber on the face of it.

Belarus will now have one eye on the upcoming World Cup 2018 campaign, though, where they will take on France, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Bulgaria and Sweden - a group of death of sorts that will be incredibly difficult to navigate through on the face of it.

Before then, the Belarusians must also face Republic of Ireland in a friendly meeting next Tuesday, aiming to improve on an overall record that reads just six wins from their last 26 outings.

Ranked at 77th in the world, below the likes of Benin, Uganda and Uzbekistan, Belarus have done their hopes of rising up the rankings no harm by securing successive goalless draws against Macedonia, Armenia and Montenegro.

Khatskevich has at least made his side tough to break down, going five games without defeat overall despite morale perhaps dropping once qualification hopes were put to an end.

Form may just about be on the up, then, but Belarus will now be determined to take some sort of positive from their back-to-back matches against Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, starting in Belfast this week.

Recent form: LWWDDD

Team News

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

This will be O'Neill's final chance to run the rule over his 28-man squad before naming his final group to travel to France.

That announcement is due to be made on Saturday, with the Ireland boss being given the daunting task of breaking the hearts of five players.

Experimentation could be on the cards, but O'Neill will largely want to go with a settled starting lineup knowing that just 180 minutes remain before the opening Euro 2016 fixture.

Having gone 500 minutes without conceding, the visitors will be relying largely on their group to remain compact, while up top Kryliya Sovetov is coming off the back of a Russian Premier League season that has seen him find the net just four times.

Northern Ireland possible starting lineup:
McGovern, McAuley, Cathcart, Evans, Baird, McLaughlin, Norwood, Davis, Dallas, Ward, Lafferty

Belarus possible starting lineup:
Gorbunov, Palitsevich, Polyakov, Shitov, Martynovich, Krivets, Kalachev, Kislyak, Maevski, Volodko, Kornilenko

Head To Head

This will actually be the first ever meeting between these two sides, having avoided each other in any UEFA-recognised fixture in the past.

The hosts have only won three of their last 10 friendlies on home soil, albeit claiming back-to-back wins here recently, so Belarus will perhaps feel this is a game they can take a morale-boosting win from.

Khatskevich's men have lost just one of their last eight friendlies, in fact, winning four games during that run and setting up what should be an entertaining match at Windsor Park.

Sports Mole Logo

We say: Northern Ireland 1-0 Belarus

If nothing else, Belarus have proved to be incredibly tough to break down in recent outings as they have now gone three games without shipping a single goal. The visitors have also scored in six of their last 10 away matches, compared to their opponents' record of conceding in eight of their last 10 overall, but Northern Ireland - still on a real high - will fancy their chances in this final home friendly before the Euros.

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Who will win Friday night's friendly clash between Northern Ireland and Belarus?

Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland
Steve Davis (L) of Northern Ireland celebrates after scoring during the international football friendly match between Northern Ireland and Latvia at Windsor Park on November 13, 2015 in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
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