Greece - Northern Ireland preview: O'Neill's table toppers head to Greece, searching for another win
Greece vs Northern Ireland preview: O'Neill's table toppers head to Greece, searching for another win

Northern Ireland sit atop Group F, ahead of their trip to Greece. The hosts have been unable to find form so far and will be keen to notch up their first win of the qualifying campaign.

A convincing three points against the Faroe Islands, at Windsor Park, meant the 'Green and White Army' were the only team in their group to still have a 100% record. Gareth McAuley's early opener was quickly followed by a flicked finish from Kyle Lafferty. The early lead allowed them to ease off and conserve energy for the most daunting away trip in the group stages, as the Karaiskakis Stadium awaits the visit of Michael O'Neill's men on Tuesday.

While the 'white hot atmosphere' - as Michael O'Neill described it in his post-match press conference - awaits Northern ireland, one player will be taking it all in his stride. Roy Carroll, who also saved a Fródi Benjaminsen penalty, spent two years with Olympiacos and will be of vital importance to the away side's chances. Shane Ferguson was everywhere on the night and set-up Lafferty's goal, but was also the culprit for the Faroe's penalty chance.

"When the 'keeper got there I thought I might have got away with it, I tugged him and it was a bit stupid," said the Newcastle wide-man, yet he was in good spirits after the win, "I didn't think I'd get sent off, but I'm lucky Roy (Carroll) saved it [laughs]."

Attentions quickly turned to the game in Athens, with Ferguson suggesting Northern Ireland would take a similar approach to the crunch clash. When asked about their game-plan, he commented: "Just the way we approached the last two games, we'll just take it in our stride. We will obviously have a plan when we get out there and just see how it goes." He was also asked if his own game would change for the trip to Greece, "It probably will be a bit different from the game tonight. Obviously, when you look at the game against Hungary, some times we had to sit in under pressure. So it will probably be the same as that."

Doubts have been raised over the fitness of Gareth McAuley, after the West Brom defender collided with the post in the early exchanges. He was replaced by Luke McCullough on the hour-mark, but should be ready for the challenge on Tuesday. Chris Brunt won't be available on Tuesday and won't travel with the squad, after O'Neill confirmed he had returned to his club.

As for Greece and Claudio Ranieri's charges, they have just a solitary point to show from their opening two games. "A 1-1 draw against Finland isn't a failure for the revamped Greek team who have no alternative but to defeat Northern Ireland [on Tuesday] to state their intent in the group," is how Greek football paper 'GoalNews' summed up the recent form of their national team. Despite Nikos Karelis' wonderful opener on his international debut, Jarkko Hurme managed to salvage a point for the Finns.

'The Tinkerman', who came under fire from the Greek press for his excessive experimentation, had this to say, "We have improved a lot from the first game [a home loss to Romania] and one point is good. We played well, I am very happy with both the young and the experienced players." said Ranieri, was straight to the point was his summary of the situation, "Our goal is to qualify. I said from the first day, if we don't qualify, it is a disaster – for me, for everybody. It was important to get the first point, now we have to think about the next match."

Panagiotis Tachtsidis - Greek holding midfielder - felt that they edged the match and didn't deserve to draw, but was quick to turn attentions to the game on Tuesday: "This result means we have to focus fully on the match against Northern Ireland on Tuesday." With that being said, Greece have a great record against Northern Ireland. The sides last met in 2003, when Greece prevailed on both occasions on the road to their UEFA EURO 2004 glory. The only Northern Ireland win came over 50 years ago, with a 2-0 victory secured in 1961.

O'Neill, Steven Davis and Aaron Hughes have all expressed their desire to keep up their fantastic start to qualifying, the best run since 1968. However, Greece will be desperate to get their campaign kick-started. Their fans and the players will be fired up beyond belief come Tuesday, can the boys in green overcome the atmosphere? It'll be a fascinating encounter, that much is for sure.

Northern Ireland quotes via Jonathan Walsh. Greece quotes via UEFA.com.

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