MX23RW : Tuesday, July 27 10:09:59| >> :600:386564:386564:
May 31, 2015 at 5pm UK at Alexandra Stadium, Crewe
N. IrelandNorthern Ireland
Dallas (46')
FT(HT: 0-0)
Boudiaf (70')

Preview: Northern Ireland vs. Qatar

Sports Mole previews this weekend's friendly meeting between Northern Ireland and Qatar at Gresty Road.

Northern Ireland take on Qatar at Gresty Road this weekend in a first ever senior meeting between the two sides.

The 2022 World Cup hosts are looking to bounce back from a poor showing at the Asian Cup, and under new management they have the chance to pull off an upset against a side who will have one eye on upcoming games.

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill on the touchline during the World Cup qualifier against Portugal on September 6, 2013© Getty Images

So far, so good will be the message from Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill, who has seen his side claim four wins from their opening five Euro 2016 qualification fixtures.

With a key match against Group F leaders Romania fast approaching, this weekend's meeting against Qatar will provide a much-needed run-out for the Green and White Army heading into that crunch clash.

Sitting just one point off Romania heading into that game, O'Neill knows that his men must hit the ground running in order to claim a positive result that will keep them well on track to reaching next year's finals.

The key for Northern Ireland thus far has been team spirit. Without a competitive win on their travels since 2010, they kick-started their campaign with a highly impressive comeback victory in Budapest, which was soon followed up by another maximum haul away at Greece.

In fact, the only blight so far has been a 2-0 reverse against Romania, which means that Norn Iron head into their friendly with Qatar in relatively good shape. Although there was also a somewhat disappointing 1-0 friendly loss against Scotland in March, too, proving the importance of finding some momentum.

O'Neil himself said when Sunday's contest was first pencilled in that it was all about "remaining focused". If they are to pull off yet another impressive result when they take on the Romanians at Windsor Park, and at the same time improve their current ranking of 42nd in time for the World Cup qualification draw, then they really must target a win at Gresty Road.

Recent form: WWWLLW


A general view of Gretys Road home of Crewe Alexandra prior to the Coca Cola League One match between Crewe Alexandra and Northampton Town at Gresty Road on August 5, 2006© Getty Images

All roads lead to the 2022 World Cup on home soil as far as Qatar are concerned which, should the ongoing enquiries find no wrongdoing, will see the Asian minnows automatically qualify for the biggest competition in sport.

While the league may be growing, with Barcelona superstar Xavi the latest to make the move to the mega-rich state, the men's national side has showed little signs of continuous improvement.

From 93rd in the world in 2011, down to their current standing of 99th, the Maroon must step things up if they are to make an impact on their home turf in eight years' time.

Recent results have been positive, having recorded successive wins over Algeria and Slovenia - two sides who can certainly hold their own against the best.

Qatar have a knack of doing well in friendlies, going eight games since their last defeat against Peru back in September. As well as facing Slovenia and Algeria in that run, Al-Annabi have also got the better of Estonia and Australia.

Home advantage so often counts for Jose Daniel Carreno's charges, but their poor showing at the recent Asian Cup, in which they lost all three of their group games, does not look all that promising.

It was perhaps unsurprising, then, to see Carreno take over from Djamel Belmadi earlier this month. A huge World Cup qualifying campaign gets underway for Qatar in the next fortnight, and much like their weekend opponents, they must use this clash to gain some momentum.

Recent form: DLLLWW

Team News

Jonny Evans of Manchester United shows his frustration during the Capital One Cup Second Round match against MK Dons on August 26, 2014© Getty Images

Manchester United defenders Jonny Evans and Paddy McNair have both been included in the Northern Ireland squad for their double-header, while Sheffield Wednesday striker Caolan Lavery is also part of the 28-man group.

Due to the timing of the fixtures certain players, such as Lavery, will have gone a whole month without any football under their belt, but the likes of Ross County's Liam Boyce and Cheltenham Town goalkeeper Trevor Carson will be delighted to be a part of O'Neill's plans.

As far as the 'visitors' are concerned, in that aforementioned friendly against Algeria six of the starting lineup were not born in Qatar. Players of various descents are being called upon, which is helping to provide some additional depth to the squad.

Al Sadd midfielder Ali Assadalla has a decent scoring record at international level, and he is likely to be tasked with leading the line against the Green and Whites.

Northern Ireland possible starting lineup:
McGovern, D Lafferty, Evans, Baird, Dallas, Davis, Norwood, McNair, Hughes, Brunt, Lafferty

Qatar possible starting lineup:
Burhan, Majid, Khoukhi, Ali, Hatem, Boudiaf, Muftah, Kangambu, Khalid, Muntari, Assadalla

Head To Head

Qatar will spend a week training in England ahead of their first ever meeting against Northern Ireland, while a meeting with Scotland awaits just a few days later.

The Maroon then kick off their World Cup qualification process by taking on the Maldives, before back-to-back home games against Bahrain and Bhutan.

For the Irish, meanwhile, they must wait another three months for their next outing after taking on Qatar and Romania over the next fortnight.

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We say: Northern Ireland 2-0 Qatar

They may be ranked just inside FIFA's top 100 sides, but Qatar have offered glimmers of quality in recent friendly matches. Northern Ireland will be focused solely on getting the job done when they return to competitive action in June, but this offers the perfect chance for O'Neill to try some further experimenting ahead of the main event.

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