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Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill is hoping to build on last month’s morale boosting win over Russia when Portugal come to Windsor Park on Friday night.


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With a side that includes players of the calibre of Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani and Joao Moutinho in their ranks the Portuguese represents a stern test for the Northern Irish but after securing a 1-1 draw in Porto earlier in the group it’s a challenge that O’Neill is prepared for.

“We don’t want it to be a beautiful game of football if I’m 100 per cent honest,” he said.

“That’s not how we’re going to excel. They’d love the game to be open: they love space, they love to be able to play on the counter attack.

“It’s important they have a difficult night and that they know from the word go that they’re going to have a difficult night.

“I think it would be foolhardy of us to go and play a really open game and say to Portugal ‘Come and play us, you attack us and we’ll attack you’.”

O’Neill will head into the game without experienced defender Aaron Hughes with Craig Cathcart, Chris Baird, currently without a club, or Alex Bruce, yet to play a competitive game for Northern Ireland, vying to step in to the breach.

MK Dons defender Lee Hodson is also pushing for a start while midfielder Michael O’Connor is hoping that he starts as he looks to cement his place in the starting line-up.

The Rotherham star has had to be patient in his attempts to add to his 10 caps, the last of which came in 2010 but following his re-call to the squad he is keen to take his chance.

“I honestly didn’t think I’d play again — three years out is a long time.
“I’ve needed to work hard as I didn’t think I was fit enough the past two years but I’ve got my head down, I’m injury-free and I’m playing well for my club.

“I just want to play. I don’t mind if I play against Portugal or Luxembourg, I just want to get out there and play again.

“I want to put the shirt on and give it my best,” he stated.

A win for Portugal tonight would virtually assure them of second place in the table and fit again Monaco midfielder Moutinho, set to start in Belfast, wants his side to seize their opportunity saying “We want to get into a winning position from the start, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Portugal are likely to be unchanged from their qualifying game with the only doubt being whether Bento plumps for Manchester United winger Nani or Wolfburg’s star Vieirinha, who has impressed for club and country recently.

Trevor Keane is an Irish based sports writer and the author of Gaffers, 50 years of Irish Managers and Running through Walls, the Dave Langan Story.