Having suffered a defeat to the Netherlands in their first Euro 2016 warm-up games, Wales will want to return to winning ways even though they are without superstar Gareth Bale. Meanwhile, Northern Ireland hope to extend the unbeaten run to nine games and prove everyone they deserve to be playing at the highest level.
Wales produced quite a coup by securing the first appearance at a major tournament since 1958 and nobody can say they did not deserve to book a ticket to France, having qualified from the group that also contained the likes of Belgium, Bosnia and Israel. The Dragons ended the campaign with a single defeat, conceding mere four goals and making sure every one of the 11 goals scored count. Many believe that this is one of the best generations in the history of the national team, although Chris Coleman will need to have most key men fit for Euro 2016 if his side are to continue the rich vein of form at the tournament finals. Wales were quite unfortunate to be placed alongside England, Russia and Slovakia in Group B, and no doubts the games vs Northern Ireland and Ukraine will serve as very good tests for what awaits them in the summer. The first of the two will show whether the Dragons can perform when several key men are unavailable, with Gareth Bale and few other important players left out of the squad for various reasons.
The Real Madrid superstar was allowed to skip the March friendlies having only recently returned to injury, while Aaron Ramsey, David Edwards, Andy King, James Collins and Paul Dummet miss out as well.
Hal-Robson Kanu is unlikely to feature after picking up an injury at the weekend, but Neil Taylor should be fit after recovering from a dead leg.
While Wales defied the odds to make it to the Euro 2016, Northern Ireland’s achievement was even greater considering the circumstances and the two teams that never played at the European Championships finals will now square off in a high-profile friendly in Cardiff. Granted, Michael O’Neill’s side were placed in the only group without star names, but they, nonetheless, did well to leave the likes of Romania, Hungary, Finland and Greece trail in their wake. Northern Ireland topped their qualifying group, losing just one game in the process, and they could prove to be a rough nut to crack in France as well. Norn Iron have since experienced some problems as key player Chris Brunt suffered a season-ending injury, and it is not as if the boss has such a big pool to choose from. But, having not tasted defeat in last nine matches (W4 D5), Northern Ireland have reason for optimism ahead of the Wales game, and they clearly want to be best prepared for games against Poland, Ukraine and Germany that await them in France.
Peterborough defender Michael Smith and QPR striker Conor Washington have been handed their first caps, and the latter is especially expected to make an impact.
Derby County defender Chris Baird misses out through injury, but there have been no selection problems since the squad was announced.
Key Factors to Consider
- Wales are unbeaten in last 7 matches vs Northern Ireland (W4 D3)
- Northern Ireland have failed to score in last three meetings with Wales
- Wales recorded a 2-0 win in three of last four home fixtures vs Norn Iron
- Northern Ireland are unbeaten in last nine (W4 D5)
- Wales ended an eight-match unbeaten run at home by losing to Netherlands
Even though Wales head into the game without several high-profile players, their decent strength in depth should allow Chris Coleman to field a decent side nonetheless. This means that Northern Ireland’s nine-match unbeaten run will be put to a serious test, especially seeing that Michael O’Neill could introduce some new players.
Verdict: Home win
Best Odds: 13/10
Bookmaker: William Hill