Ian Baraclough urges Northern Ireland to “enjoy” Italy test

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Ian Baraclough told his Northern Irish players they should enjoy the challenge of facing European champions Italy as the World Cup qualifying campaign comes to an end at Windsor Park on Monday night.

Northern Ireland’s hopes of reaching Qatar were dashed last month, but they will face an Italian side in need of results after Jorginho’s penalty miss in Friday’s 1-1 draw with Switzerland left Roberto Mancini’s side still locked in a Swiss fight . First place in Group C.

That will make life even more difficult for Baraclough’s men, who beat Lithuania 1-0 at Windsor Park on Friday, ending a two-and-a-half-year competitive victory wait.

“I hope we can enjoy it,” Baraclough said. “I hope the players can enjoy nights like this. It doesn’t happen every time. We had really big nights here with Germany, the Netherlands and the like.

“It’s huge for us: go and test yourself against the best team in Europe, the European champions.”

After a disappointing October, Baraclough was encouraged on Friday as his team dominated the game and was strong in the first half, when the defeat in Switzerland ended his World Cup dream before alarm bells sounded when Northern Ireland lost 1-0 to Bulgaria. It got an overwhelming response. We were up 3-0 at the timeout.

And he hopes the same positive stance will be displayed on Monday, even if the level of opposition leads to very different competition.

“There is no fear,” he added. “We know we’re going to come back to our own half from time to time, we won’t have much of the ball, so it’s very important that we look at it, (Friday) and learn what was difficult for us in the second half. Make sure we fix that.

“We know what’s against us. I wish Jorginho had taken that penalty but this is the test.

It’s huge for us: go and test yourself against the best team in Europe, the champions of Europe.Ian Baraclough

“We all want to beat the best, and that’s something we haven’t been able to do for a while.”

Baraclough, Jonny Evans, Stuart Dallas and Ali McCann chose an experienced team to face Lithuania as they return to the starting line-up. There was also a spot for Shane Ferguson, who was selected ahead of Newcastle’s Jamal Lewis, as Baraclough focused on getting players regular playing time at club level.

The manager pointed to changes for Monday night, but these are unlikely to be swept away. Baraclough will hope that while the Middlesbrough man has seen the game, none of it will be enforced after Paddy McNair is late holding his hamstring.

“He said his groin was a little tight, and then towards the end his hamstring tightened,” Baraclough said. Said. “I think it was more of a fatigue than a muscle injury so I hope it gets better when we get back, rest, pack up and prepare for Italy.”