Northern Ireland will face Bosnia & Herzegovina in the UEFA EURO 2020 Play-off Semi-Final in Sarajevo. This is the rescheduled match after the tie was previously called off just days before it was due to kick off, with the COVID-19 pandemic starting to spread rapidly across the world.
Northern Ireland have named a strong squad for this fixture, along with the two Nations League ties which follow the play-off fixture. These matches have really been put to the back of Northern Ireland’s fans minds with Thursday’s fixture taking prominence.
The Northern Ireland squad for the Bosnia, Austria, and Norway games is as follows:
Goalkeepers: Bailey Peacock-Farrell (Burnley), Michael McGovern (Norwich City), Trevor Carson (Motherwell).
Defenders: Jonathan Evans (Leicester City), Craig Cathcart (Watford), Stuart Dallas (Leeds United), Shane Ferguson (Millwall), Conor McLaughlin (Sunderland), Jamal Lewis (Newcastle United), Michael Smith (Heart of Midlothian), Tom Flanagan (Sunderland), Daniel Ballard (Blackpool – On Loan from Arsenal).
Midfielders: Steven Davis (Rangers), Corry Evans (Blackburn Rovers), Niall McGinn (Aberdeen), Patrick McNair (Middlesbrough), George Saville (Middlesbrough), Gavin Whyte (Cardiff City), Jordan Jones (Rangers), Jordan Thompson (Stoke City), Joel Cooper (Oxford United), Alistair McCann (St Johnstone).
Forwards: Kyle Lafferty (Reggina), Josh Magennis (Hull City), Conor Washington (Charlton Athletic), Liam Boyce (Heart of Midlothian).
One player that I am really happy to see get into the Northern Ireland squad is Ali McCann, who has been in great form for St Johnstone so far this season. Daniel Ballard also gets a call-up in the original squad this time around and hopefully, his loan move to Blackpool will help develop him more as a player.
Bosnia’s real threat comes from their attack and in particular, Edin Dzeko. The Roma forward has impressed throughout his career and has managed to hit the back of the net 59 times for his country. He will be supported from midfield by Barcelona midfielder Miralem Pjanić who left Juventus as he wanted to play with Messi (who within a few days had handed in a transfer request).
Austria is a team that Northern Ireland is familiar with, having faced them twice in the last edition of the UEFA Nations League, the same as their play-off opponents Bosnia. Their main threat comes from Bayern Munich defender David Alaba, who usually plays in a higher position for his country.
Norway is going to be a real test for Northern Ireland, especially away from home. The Green and White Army lost 5-1 to the Scandinavian country a month ago with Erling Haaland showing his real ability against a makeshift Northern Ireland back-line.
Hopefully, Northern Ireland will be going into the Nations League as play-off finalists and that will really be a big confidence boost for them. They will struggle against Austria and Norway, but with Jonny Evans back and the forwards getting not only minutes at club level, but also finding the back of the net, it will make a big difference to the quality that Northern Ireland can produce on the pitch.