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It's a huge night for Northern Ireland in their bid for World Cup qualification

Michael O’Neill’s men could guarantee second place at least in their group at Windsor Park this evening.

Northern Ireland face Czech Republic tonight.
Northern Ireland face Czech Republic tonight.
Image: Tim Goode

NORTHERN IRELAND CAN take a step closer to the 2018 World Cup when they take on Czech Republic on Monday as victory or a draw would guarantee a second-place finish in Group C.

Michael O’Neill’s team picked up their fifth win of qualifying on Friday when they defeated San Marino 3-0 and will be full of confidence as they prepare to welcome the Czechs to Belfast.

The stakes are much higher for Karel Jarolim and his side as anything less than a win would extinguish their hopes of reaching the tournament in Russia next year.

The match will be available to watch live on television on Sky Sports Mix and by stream via Sky Go.

Northern Ireland are without defenders Gareth McAuley and Craig Cathcart due to injury. Hearts defender Michael Smith and uncapped Leeds United goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell have been called up, but neither featured in the matchday squad against San Marino.

NIRELAND

The Czechs came through their match against Germany unscathed and, having nearly secured a 1-1 draw, are unlikely to make major changes.

Ladislav Krejci and Jan Kliment will hope to push for a start having made an impact off the bench in Prague.

Northern Ireland can potentially go 10 points clear of their nearest rivals Czech Republic when the two teams meet at Windsor Park on Monday evening.

The Green and White Army held the Czechs to a scoreless draw when they met in Prague last September and they will be determined to go one better with the backing of their fans at home.

Manager Michael O’Neill has presided over an incredible upturn in fortunes since taking the reins in 2012 and, after guiding the team to the European Championship in 2016, he has his sights set on securing a place in the World Cup in 2018.

Northern Ireland have not featured at the tournament since 1986, but if they can avoid defeat against Czech Republic, they move a small bit closer towards ending a three-decade hiatus from the most prestigious football competition in the world.

O’Neill is determined to achieve that goal and he has issued a chilling pre-match rallying cry to his players about snatching all hope from their visitors on Monday.

The focus is on ourselves, we know we’re going to have to play extremely well and produce a big performance,” the former Shamrock Rovers boss told the Belfast Telegraph.

“But it is one of those games where the psychological side of the game will be huge.

“It’s going to be a difficult game for them if they go behind, to continue to believe. We have to try to make that (happen) and try to take whatever hope they have away from them early in the game.”

Meanwhile, Germany host Norway in the other big game in the group on Monday in Stuttgart.

Victory against the Norwegians will seal Germany’s place at next year’s World Cup in Russia, providing Group C rivals Northern Ireland fail to beat the Czech Republic.

Northern Ireland squad

Goalkeepers: Carroll, McGovern, Mannus, Peacock-Farrell Defenders: Hughes, J. Evans, Brunt, C. McLaughlin, R. McLaughlin, Smith, Hodson, D. Lafferty, Thompson, Flanagan Midfielders: Davis, McGinn, Norwood, C. Evans, Ferguson, Dallas, Paton, Lund Forwards: K. Lafferty, Magennis, Washington, McCartan

Northern Ireland potential starting XI: McGovern; C. McLaughlin, Hughes, Evans, Brunt; Dallas, Davis, Norwood, Ferguson; Magennis, Lafferty.

Czech Republic potential starting XI: Vaclik; Gebre Selassie, Kalas, Suchy, Novak, Boril; Krejci, Soucek, Darida, Jankto; Krmencik.

Additional reporting by AFP

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