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    Northern Ireland boss Ian Baraclough says his side are on a mission to ‘lift the nation’

    Northern Ireland boss Ian Baraclough says his side are on a mission to ‘lift the nation’ by qualifying for the country’s fifth major tournament at Euro 2020 with play-off victory against Slovakia

    • Victory for Northern Ireland against Slovakia would send them to Euro 2020 
    • There will be more than 1,000 fans allowed inside Windsor Park for the game 
    • The atmosphere will be different to when Northern Ireland beat Greece in 2015
    • They will draw extra motivation from their World Cup play-off heartbreak in 2017

    Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough has urged his players to ‘lift the nation’ by qualifying for Euro 2020 on Thursday night.

    Victory in their play-off against Slovakia in Belfast would send Northern Ireland to only their fifth major tournament and second Euros in a row. The game follows a month of stricter coronavirus restrictions, although 1,060 fans will be allowed inside Windsor Park.

    ‘Any number of fans being in the ground is good,’ said Baraclough. ‘We want them to make a noise and go home hoarse. We have the responsibility of lifting a nation, and we want to put a smile on people’s faces.

    Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough has urged his players to ‘lift the nation’

    Baraclough's men will qualify for Euro 2020 if they beat Slovakia in Belfast on Thursday

    Baraclough’s men will qualify for Euro 2020 if they beat Slovakia in Belfast on Thursday

    ‘We love the responsibility of that. That hard work and toil everyone’s had over seven or eight months, there can be a ray of sunshine at the end of it.’

    The atmosphere will be very different to the raucous night five years ago when Northern Ireland beat Greece at home to qualify for Euro 2016.

    ‘It would be a massive achievement for this team to make it to another Euros,’ added Baraclough. ‘It would be a piece of history they could look back on at the end of their careers and say, ‘I was part of that group’.

    ‘It’s something I say to the players: go and create history. People think footballers are mercenaries and are just interested in money, but if you get to know players, they want to go on and achieve things they can share with their families.’ 

    The atmosphere will be different to when they beat Greece in 2015 to qualify for Euro 2016

    The atmosphere will be different to when they beat Greece in 2015 to qualify for Euro 2016

    Northern Ireland will draw extra motivation from their World Cup play-off heartbreak at the hands of Switzerland three years ago, when they went out to a fiercely disputed penalty.

    ‘That was a very sore one,’ said captain Steven Davis. ‘Not to go to a World Cup on the back of that decision was very difficult to take. It was a little bit different in that it was over two legs. 

    ‘This game being all-or-nothing will hopefully suit us. We just need to make sure it’s a good performance on the night. ‘Do that and we get ourselves to the Euros.’

    Steven Davis also said they will use their World Cup play-off heartbreak in 2017 as motivation

    Steven Davis also said they will use their World Cup play-off heartbreak in 2017 as motivation

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