Michael O’Neill is confident his Northern Ireland side will prepare properly for their Euro 2016 qualifier against Romania – starting with this weekend’s friendly against Qatar.
An impressive qualification campaign so far sees O’Neill’s men trail Romania by just a point at the top of Group F at the midway mark, despite November’s 2-0 defeat in Bucharest.
Ahead of the return fixture in June, Northern Ireland take on Qatar at Crewe Alexandra’s Gresty Road.
O’Neill – who could hand Sheffield Wednesday forward Caolan Lavery a debut – acknowledges the date of the qualifier is not ideal but maintains his side must make do and prepare as best they can.
“It’s a difficult game – June 13 is not an easy date for any of the countries,” he told the Irish Football Association’s official website.
“It’s a big gap [from the end of many players’ domestic seasons] but the players know what is expected of them.
“The players will be very well prepared for the qualifier. They know the expectations in terms of maintaining their own fitness and I have no concerns about that.
“We have a really good bunch of lads – good professionals, easy to work with and they will look forward to the game against Romania.
“A lot of the lads have had good seasons [with their clubs]. You look at Gareth Macauley, Chris Baird, Chris Brunt at West Brom doing well in the Premier League and Paddy McNair emerge in the Manchester United side.
“Steven Davis at Southampton, challenging for European places, so there’s been a lot of positives.
“We’ve players who maybe haven’t played as much as I’d have liked but it’s a question of bringing club form to the international stage.”
Ross County forward Liam Boyce is back in the fold after providing the goals that helped keep his side in the Scottish Premiership.
“Liam’s really got the bit between his teeth and he looks a lot fitter than he has done. I’m looking forward to getting him in because he’s a player who has plenty to offer,” O’Neill added.
Qatar’s trip to Crewe precedes a friendly with Scotland at Easter Road, with Jose Daniel Carreno’s men due to begin their qualifying campaign for the 2018 World Cup in June.
A trip to the Maldives is first up for Qatar, while they have also been grouped alongside Bhutan, China and Hong Kong.
Qatar have emerged 1-0 victors in both friendlies since their winless run at the Asian Cup – beating Algeria and Slovenia.