Northern Ireland vs NetherlandsEuro 2020, KO: 19:45 Nov 16, 2019, Windsor Park
NORTHERN Ireland are in need of a minor miracle to qualify for Euro 2020 as they gear up for what looks like a do-or-die double-header with international heavyweights Holland and Germany.
The first of those tussles takes place on Saturday night in Belfast when Northern Ireland welcome the Netherlands to Windsor Park in the penultimate round of Group C qualifiers.
The men in green ran Ronald Koeman's star-studded side close in Rotterdam last month when they took a shock lead 15 minutes from time, however, a late glut of goals from the Dutch saw them pick up three precious points.
That agonising defeat saw Northern Ireland fall out of the automatic qualification spots and manager Michael O'Neill has since taken charge of English Championship strugglers Stoke City, however, O'Neill has vowed to remain at the helm for Northern Ireland's remaining qualifiers and any potential Euro 2020 play-off.
Having led Northern Ireland to Euro 2016 – their first major tournament in three decades – O'Neill will be a hard act to follow – even more so if he was to sensationally steer his troops to Euro 2020 at the expense of either Germany or Holland.
The Netherlands were absent form last years World Cup as well as Euro 2016, however, Ronald Koeman appears to have rejuvenated the Oranje who have emerged from obscurity with yet another generation of gifted young footballers.
Leaving Windsor Park with a point would be enough to rubber-stamp Holland's first ticket to a major tournament in six years, however, the Dutch were given a scare in the reverse fixture and another closely-fought battle could lie ahead in Belfast.
Yet, the bookmakers believe that an away win is by far the most likely outcome here by pricing the Dutch as odds-on favourites at 4/9 (Bet 365) while the host are as high as 7/1 (Bet 365) to triumph and a point apiece pays 15/4 (Bet 365) with the same firm.
The home sides chances of taking anything out of this clash could be given a boost should Holland hotshot Memphis Depay miss out through injury.
Depay shattered Irish dreams with a last-gasp double in De Kuip and given his recent red-hot form for both club and country the Dutch aces potential absence could hit Holland hard when coming up against a notoriously compact and resolute Northern Irish outfit.
Should Depay start then I would consider backing him to score anytime at 6/5 (UniBet) but if the Lyon forward doesn't feature then I would opt for another Netherlands goalscorer in the shape of Georginio Wijnaldum.
The Liverpool midfielder tends to take up a more advanced role when playing for his country and it's a position that Wijnaldum has flourished in having scored seven goals in his last 11 competitive international outings.
Two of that tally came in the Dutch's last away-day assignment in Belarus and with Wijnaldum set to occupy the number 10 role once again on Saturday night, I like the look of the 9/2 (PaddyPower) on offer for him to score anytime.
In conjunction with that, I'm also going to dip into the card markets with a focus on one of the Northern Irish midfielders who may have to keep a close eye on the classy Liverpool man.
Over the last year or so Paddy McNair has made himself an automatic pick in the Northern Irish midfield alongside skipper Steven Davis and the tough-tackling Ulsterman looks very overpriced at 7/1 (Bet 365) to be booked in Belfast.
McNair has already picked up four bookings for Middlesbrough this season and he was shown a card against Germany at this venue last month and I wouldn't be surprised to see him have his name taken again when trying to tame Koeman's talented and technically gifted midfield and attack.
Given what's at stake for the Netherlands, coupled with their superior quality, I suspect the Dutch will seal their place at next Summer's showpiece by securing a win on Saturday night.
However, the home side tend to be a tough nut to crack in their own backyard and I expect that to be the case this weekend for what could potentially be O'Neill's farewell appearance at Windsor Park.
Indeed, the men in green will make life difficult for the Dutch and they will be roared on by a raucous home crowd, however, I would still lean towards the Netherlands and I fancy them to squeeze out a narrow victory.
Koeman will be keen to see his side finish top of the section and a slip up here would scupper their chances of doing just that, however, Northern Ireland's last competitive defeat by more than two goals was over eight years ago.
Therefore, an alternative angle to consider in trying to source some value from a Netherlands victory is to back the visitors to win in a match that sees under 4.5 goals scored at 8/11 (Coral)- a combination that would have generated profit in four out of five of the Netherlands Group C successes to date.
This Euro 2020 match between Northern Ireland and Netherlands will be played on Nov 16, 2019 and kick off at 19:45