MICHAEL O’Neill will be forced to sweat over the availability of a number of his players ahead of next week’s crunch World Cup qualifier against Azerbaijan.
No less than SEVEN of O’Neill’s squad will be in club action on Sunday – 72 hours before the must-win Group F encounter in Belfast.
And the Northern Ireland boss is hoping he won’t suffer any eleventh hour withdrawals.
“I don’t have the luxury of spending more time with the players this time,” O’Neill said.
“It is a friendly international date so we only have the same time and rights with the players as if it was a friendly game.
“So that means I have seven players playing on Sunday, and we will only have Monday and Tuesday as preparation for this game.
“So we need the players to come through Sunday unscathed. Roy Carroll, for example, plays on Sunday night. So that is not ideal.
“I hope the time spent in Portugal will make the preparation we have this time a little easier.”
O’Neill named a 24-man squad on Monday for next week’s game.
And he hopes his senior players can emulate the success of the Under 17 men’s team and both the U17 and U19 women’s sides who have qualified to the Elite Stages of their respective UEFA European Championships.
“I would add my congratulations to all the teams – players and coaches,” O’Neill said.
“It bodes well for the future.
“We now have to go out and get the win we need against Azerbaijan. We have to continue the momentum from last month’s Portugal result.”
N IRELAND SQUAD
GOALKEEPERS: Roy Carroll (Olympiakos), Alan Mannus (St Johnstone), Michael McGovern (Falkirk).
DEFENDERS: Aaron Hughes (Fulham), Ryan McGivern (Man City), Jonny Evans (Man Utd), Craig Cathcart (Blackpool), Gareth McAuley (West Brom), Alex Bruce (Hull City).
MIDFIELDERS: Chris Baird (Fulham), Steven Davis (Southampton), Oliver Norwood (Huddersfield Town), Corry Evans (Hull City), Niall McGinn (Aberdeen), Pat McCourt (Celtic), Chris Brunt (West Brom), Shane Ferguson (Newcastle Utd), Grant McCann (Peterborough Utd).
STRIKERS: David Healy (Bury), Dean Shiels (Rangers), Kyle Lafferty (FC Sion), Will Grigg (Walsall), Jamie Ward (Derby County), Andrew Little (Rangers)