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Mar 23, 2013 at 3pm UK at Windsor Park
N. IrelandNorthern Ireland

Preview: Northern Ireland vs. Russia

Preview: Northern Ireland vs. Russia
© PA Photos
Sports Mole previews Friday's Group F World Cup qualification clash between Northern Ireland and Russia.

Russia will attempt to strengthen their grip on top position in Group F when they travel to Northern Ireland in their World Cup qualification clash on Friday.

Having won all four of their fixtures to date, the Russians sit top of the group, five points ahead of nearest challengers Israel, whom they face next week.

The home nation have lost just one of their four fixtures, but three draws have left them in fourth position in the table, some nine points behind their opponents this week.

Both sides were in friendly action last month, with Northern Ireland picking up a 0-0 draw in Malta, while Russia make it four wins from their last five with a 2-0 success in Iceland.

Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill could name Martin Paterson in his side on the Burnley striker's return to the squad, but Fulham midfielder Chris Baird is unavailable due to suspension.

Dean Shiels had been expected to start for his country, but the Rangers midfielder will miss the match with a knee injury, meaning that Jamie Ward should start in attack.

Russia, meanwhile, are expected to have Aleksandr Kerzhakov leading their line, but former Chelsea midfielder Yuri Zhirkov is a doubt with a muscular injury.

Recent form

Northern Ireland: LDDDD

Russia: WWWDW

Possible lineups

Northern Ireland: Carroll; Cathcart, McAuley, Evans, Bruce; McCann, Brunt, Ferguson, Little; Ward, Paterson

Russia: Akinfeev; Anyukov, Ignahevich, A Berezutskiy, Eschenko, V Berezutskiy; Denisov, Shirokov, Bystrov, Faizulin; Kerzhakov

Sports Mole says: 1-3

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