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Northern Ireland v Belarus: Last chance to impress as O´Neill prepares to trim squad

Northern Ireland’s players will have a final chance to impress manager Michael O’Neill when they host Belarus on Friday before he trims his squad for Euro 2016 to 23.

O’Neill’s men will be competing in a European Championship for the first time next month but face a tough assignment to progress from the group stage, having been pitted against world champions Germany, as well as Poland and Ukraine in France.

However, they can take great confidence from their record in qualifying – a campaign which saw Northern Ireland lose just one game – and an unbeaten record in friendlies since securing a place in the finals.

O’Neill will trim his squad from 28 to 23 on Saturday ahead of their final warm-up game against Slovakia in Trnava on June 4.

And the manager is keen for his players to take the same approach to this weekend’s contest as they have done in previous friendlies.

“We will use the Belarus game to look at our options, our systems and how we play,” O’Neill said. 

“It’s also a chance to look at personnel and to give players opportunities. We are on a good run at the minute and we want to continue that run.

“It is important that we approach the match in the same way as we have approached all our other games since qualification.

“In those we are unbeaten. We have won two and drawn one. We have only conceded one goal and that was from a penalty.

“The Belarus and Slovakia games will both be very important. They will both be good tests for us, particularly the game in Slovakia.

“They are what we need because when we come to the tournament we are going to have to reach very high levels, possibly levels that we have never reached before.”

Belarus are unbeaten in their last five matches, although they have scored just three goals in those games, and will be aiming to maintain that run in friendlies with Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland going into the qualifying campaign for the 2018 World Cup.

But all the focus will be on the hosts at Windsor Park as the players bid farewell to the home fans and stake their final claim for a place in the squad ahead of the Group C opener versus Poland, which will take place in Nice on June 12.

Wed 25 May, 2016
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