Michael O’Neill believes it is “only a matter of time” before Aaron Hughes reaches the 100-cap mark for Northern Ireland.
Hughes was dropped for last night’s clash against Finland despite playing in all four previous Euro 2016 qualifiers.
Jonny Evans - who had missed all of the campaign prior to yesterday due to suspension and injury - was drafted in by O’Neill to earn his 41st cap.
Hughes remains on 95 appearances for his country, but O’Neill expects the Brighton defender to go on and reach the century milestone.
“Leaving out Aaron was maybe the most difficult decision I have had to make in my three years as Northern Ireland manager,” O’Neill said.
“Everyone knows what Aaron Hughes is about and what his qualities are as a player and individual. I sat with Aaron a few nights ago and talked about his situation at his club. He hasn’t played much club football in recent tines, and he fully understood where I was coming from.
“And Aaron being Aaron, he took it in his professional style. He is still a huge part of this squad, but now we have competition for places which is good.
“Jonny (Evans) showed today what a top class player he is, and he showed it at Hampden the other night. So it is good.
“Aaron also gives us options at right-back as well.
“It is only a matter of time before Aaron gets his 96th cap and goes on to win 100.”