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The Shorty: Northern Ireland To Win
Northern Ireland simply must beat minnows Lithuania on Thursday night if they are to have any hope of keeping their remote hopes of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup alive. Ian Baraclough’s side have made the worst possible start to life in Group C, taking just one point from their opening two games to fall eight points behind group leaders Italy and five points behind Switzerland in second place.
Judging by both sides’ performances at the Euros over the summer, it is unlikely that either side will drop the necessary number of points to allow Northern Ireland to fight their way back into contention. It is equally unlikely that the North are capable of stringing together a run of results good enough to capitalise on any lapses from Italy and/or Switzerland.
Lithuania have lost both of their games in the group to date, although they gave a good account of themselves in narrow defeats to Switzerland and Italy, conceding a combined total of just three goals.
The hosts have lost all six games that they have played in 2021, including defeats to Estonia, Kosovo, and Latvia, and Northern Ireland should earn the first win of their World Cup qualifying campaign in this one.
WHEN: Thursday, September 2: 7.45pm
TV: Sky Sports
Value Bet: Northern Ireland To Win To Nil
Lithuania do not score a lot of goals against superior opposition. They drew blanks in each of their two games in Group C against Italy and Switzerland, while they also failed to score in a 6-0 defeat to Portugal in their last qualifying game before Euro 2020. They didn’t find the next in both games against Ukraine in the same group, although they did manage to score in both matches against Serbia.
Northern Ireland, on the other hand, do not generally concede a lot of goals. They kept three clean sheets in eight games during their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign and conceded one goal or fewer on five separate occasions.
They have already kept one clean sheet in their two World Cup qualifiers to date, in a 0-0 draw with Bulgaria in March, and can improve that record against a Lithuania outfit that has scored one goal in six games this year.
Long(ish) Shot: Northern Ireland To Win 1-0
Baraclough’s men may not concede a lot of goals, but they don’t score a whole pile either. The Green and White Army have failed to score more than two goals in each of their last 15 competitive fixtures and have not beaten a team by more than one goal in a competitive fixture since a 2-0 home win over Estonia in March 2019.
Their three most recent competitive victories (all in 2019) were all by the slenderest of margins and it would not be at all surprising if they won in similar circumstances on Thursday night. They lack any real firepower up front and will probably rely on a set-piece to break the deadlock in Vilnius.
There is little chance that they will blow Lithuania away on their own patch and Baraclough would surely be more than satisfied with a forgettable 1-0 win that would lay the foundations for the remainder of Northern Ireland’s qualifying campaign.
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