The game, which was rearranged after heavy snow in Belfast forced it to be postponed in March, is the only competitive qualifier taking place in Europe tonight and Capello’s side can leapfrog Portugal at the group summit with victory. A repeat of the 2-0 success Russia achieved in Moscow at the start of the campaign would leave them on 15 points to Portugal’s 14, with a game in hand.
The hosts, meanwhile, are winless in 13 matches stretching over two qualifying campaigns but the Italian coach does not expect his side to go through the motions. “The crucial moment has come. I think that everyone realises the significance of the upcoming match, its result will really have a great impact on the final group standing,” said the former England boss. “Northern Ireland tend to play in a very compact way in defence with a great number of players. They are a physically strong, athletic team and can be very dangerous in counter attacks. That is why it is important not to lose concentration.
“It is very important for us to play in a compact way with good movement of the ball. It is necessary to play fast and that is what we work on at training sessions. I am satisfied with the players’ state. We are moving in the right direction.”