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FIFA World Cup Qualifying Preview: Northern Ireland v Portugal

4 September 2013 12:38

Portugal will be able to call on Cristiano Ronaldo as they look to take a step closer to 2014 FIFA World Cup qualification against Northern Ireland.

The Real Madrid winger sat out training earlier this week with a muscle problem, but he is still expected to feature at Windsor Park on Friday as Portugal go in search of a win that would maintain their position at the top of UEFA Qualifying Group F.

However, coach Paulo Bento has been handed a blow ahead of the clash after goalkeeper Beto, attacking midfielder Danny and Hugo Almeida all pulled out of the squad through injury.

Bento has opted to call up 22-year-old forward Nelson Oliveira and uncapped duo Lica and Anthony Lopes to bolster his party, for a game that forms the first part of a double-header that will also see them take in a friendly with Brazil in Boston on September 10.

Portugal currently hold a two-point lead over Russia in their group but they have played a game more than Fabio Capello’s men, with both countries having enjoyed a 1-0 home win in the corresponding fixtures between the pair.

For Northern Ireland, meanwhile, their hopes of making the finals are all-but over, although they will be keen to build on their shock 1-0 win over Russia in August.

Midfielder Chris Brunt returns after missing that clash through suspension, while Kyle Lafferty has recovered from an Achilles injury.

Manchester United defender Jonny Evans, who missed the last qualifier through illness, is vying for a place in defence while manager Michael O’Neill has retained Michael O'Connor and Lee Hodson after they were called in as cover for the Russia clash.

Burnley left back Daniel Lafferty is suspended for the visit of Portugal but will be available for the trip to Luxembourg on Tuesday.

O'Neill’s side have had a mixed qualifying campaign so far, with the win against Russia and an impressive 1-1 draw in Portugal being tempered by home draws with both Luxembourg and Azerbaijan.

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