Northern Ireland may have won just two of their last 27 competitive away games, but their players believe they can surprise Group F leaders Sweden and boost their slim chances of UEFA EURO 2008™ qualification.
Nigel Worthington's team travel to Solna with a virtually new-look defence due to injuries and suspension, yet the visitors' history of producing shock results gives them hope. Striker David Healy, who has 32 international goals, has warned that Northern Ireland could have the last laugh again against the Scandinavians. Healy scored twice as the men in green came from behind to win the reverse fixture 2-1, yet the Swedish media have poked fun at Northern Ireland, with one newspaper labelling them "lambs to the slaughter".
"If that's the way they feel then they're underestimating us," said the 28-year-old Healy, the 12-goal leading marksman in these UEFA European Championship qualifiers. "That's understandable, I suppose, because we are coming here expected to lose after our last two games. But you should never underestimate the underdog – especially not us." Northern Ireland disappointingly lost their last two matches, 1-0 in Latvia and 2-1 in Iceland, both to own goals, yet Healy remains optimistic: "The way this qualifying campaign has been going, we will probably win this one 2-0 or 3-0!"
The Fulham FC forward continued: "The last two games were very disappointing and I admitted after the Latvia match that it was probably my worst performance in a Northern Ireland jersey. But you can never write the boys off. This time we are probably expected to lose by a few, but it wouldn't surprise me if the lads put in an unbelievable performance and we won 6-1! I would never bet against us, especially somewhere like this."
Healy is likely to be partnered up front by Kyle Lafferty, in the absence of suspended Warren Feeney. Aaron Hughes should return from injury to captain the side in a reshaped defence, as Chris Baird – stand-in skipper for the last three fixtures – is also banned. Injuries rule out Keith Gillespie, Jonny Evans and Michael Duff, so Gareth McAuley may make a first competitive start and Stephen Craigan could be recalled. Northern Ireland require at least a point to keep their qualifying dream alive – with backs to the wall, expect Healy and company to show battling spirit.
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