Northern Ireland will face Kosovo in a UEFA Nations League match on Thursday night at the Fadil Vokrri Stadium in Prishtina.
The two nations, who will meet for the first time, are separated by many points in the FIFA world rankings.
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Kosovo lost 1-0 to Greece at home on Sunday, after winning 2-0 away to Cyprus in their League C Group 2 opener the week before.
Anastasios Bakasetas scored the game’s only goal in the 36th minute, before red cards for Kosovo’s Fidan Aliti and goalkeeper Arijanet Muric added salt to their wounds – Aliti was sent off in the 71st minute for a second bookable offence, while Muric was shown a straight red in stoppage time for handling the ball outside the penalty area.
Alain Giresse’s team had gone four games without losing in all competitions, their longest such run in three years, and they had only won two of their eight games in League C since their promotion from League D in 2018-19.
Kosovo has never beaten a team ranked in the top 100 in the Nations League, but their 5-0 friendly win over Burkina Faso (ranked 56th) in March should give them confidence ahead of their encounter against Northern Ireland on Thursday.
Northern Ireland’s Nations League campaign has started with a 1-0 loss at home to Greece and a goalless draw away to Cyprus, so scoring opportunities have been limited.
In these two games, the Green and White Army had 21 shots on goal, but only four of them were on target. On Sunday, jeers erupted when the final whistle blew in Cyprus, and manager Ian Baraclough is feeling the heat.
Since the competition began in 2018, Northern Ireland has failed to win any of their 12 Nations League matches, losing nine times and scoring only six goals.
A match against European minnows Kosovo, the lowest-ranked nation in League B Group C, appears to be a good opportunity for Barraclough and his teammates to turn things around.
Northern Ireland has won four of its past five international matches away from home, with 3-0, 4-1, and 3-1 victory over Malta, Lithuania, and Luxembourg in the last 12 months.
Despite the fact that the loss of Belgium’s leading scorer Lukaku was a devastating blow, the football gods should not have chosen a dull match between two teams whose defining characteristics are rooted in the last third. Poland would have expected a wider margin of victory against a makeshift Wales XI, and with Martinez rallying his Belgium side to respond, we have hope for the world’s second-ranked nation to get back on track.