Northern Ireland - Belarus Preview: Michael's men hoping to bid adieu with Windsor win

Will the Green and White Army get the send off they desire on Friday evening?

Northern Ireland - Belarus Preview: Michael's men hoping to bid adieu with Windsor win
Image source: Sky Sports

As Northern Ireland prepare to depart for their first-ever European Championship finals, they are bidding to give the Windsor Park faithful a win before they head for France.

They will take on a depleted Belarus side led by Aleksandr Khatskevich, who has some of his star players out injured.

Either way, the eastern European outfit's tough defensive style will provide a stern test for Michael O'Neill's side.

Fanfare farewell for O'Neill's heroes

When Northern Ireland kick-off on Friday night, it will be just two weeks until the tournament starts in France. It's been a whirlwind turnaround for the side, who had previously dropped four points to both Azerbaijan and Luxembourg in the previous World Cup qualifying. Things looked bleak at that point.

Fast forward to this point in time, and fans aren't booking flights home from the Euros; the Green and White Army are going in numbers and, for once, are confident about what may lie ahead. Germany, Poland and Ukraine await the Northern Ireland squad, who are currently 10 games unbeaten.

Their defeat to Romania in Bucharest was the only low in an otherwise incredible qualifying campaign, where the roof was regularly blown off Windsor Park - if not by the fans, then by the ground collapsing - this has been a 'seeing is believing' period for the loyal Norn Iron faithful.

These inspirational posters have been springing up across Northern Ireland this week. | Image source: Official IFA
These inspirational posters have been springing up across Northern Ireland this week. | Image source: Official IFA

Belarus beginning to pick up form

Despite picking up just 11 points from their 10 qualifying games, Belarus ended the campaign strongly and arrived that into the recent run of friendly matches. They are currently unbeaten in their last five outings, which includes an impressive away triumph against Slovakia in their penultimate qualifier.

That has also been matched by their staunch defensive effort, as the Belarus defence has not been breached in any of the aforementioned quintet of fixtures. Those last three results have come as nil-nil draws, as goalscoring appears to be a serious problem for Khatskevich's men; they'll be hoping to change that on Friday.

Team news

Everything is looking good from a Northern Irish point of view, with Chris Brunt's long-term injury the only major absentee that Michael O'Neill has to worry about.

Belarus, on the other hand, have already cut their squad from 23 to 18 ahead of their trip to face the two Irish nations. The likes of Sergei KornilenkoStanislav Dragun and Sergei Balanovich have all dropped out and has left them thin for both games. It will, however, hand the less experienced players a chance to impres.

Predicted line-ups

Northern Ireland: (4-1-4-1) McGovern; McLaughlin, Cathcart, McAuley, Evans; McNair; Ward, Davis, Norwood, Dallas; K. Lafferty.

Belarus: (4-4-2) Klimovich; Shitov, Martynovich, Filipenko, Polyakov; Krivets, Hleb, Stasevich, Kislyak; Janusz, Gordeychuk.