Russia best team in group - O'Neill

14 August 2013 09:46

Michael O'Neill believes Northern Ireland will have to produce the best display of his reign to get a result against Russia at Windsor Park.

O'Neill's nine matches at the helm have hardly been an unequivocal success, with five draws, four defeats and no victories to date.

But there is one standout result O'Neill can draw optimism from - a gutsy 1-1 away draw against a star-studded Portugal in October in the third match of the World Cup qualifying campaign.

The same scoreline at home to relative minnows Azerbaijan and Luxembourg sapped some of the positivity created by that performance and O'Neill has told his side that their opponents on Wednesday are an even sterner test than Cristiano Ronaldo and company.

"Russia may not have the individual players that Portugal do but they are stronger as a team and it will be massive for us to take three points," he said.

"It would be great for us to take three points off Russia, I think Russia is the strongest team in the group.

"We're under no illusions how tough a game it will be and the quality of opposition ahead of us. But I think the important thing is what we expect of ourselves, not things outside of our control."

One of the elements O'Neill has no influence over is the absence of key duo Chris Brunt and Kyle Lafferty.

Brunt is suspended for the match and Palermo striker Lafferty was deemed unfit to travel from Italy after picking up an Achilles tendon injury on Sunday.

With Chris Baird, David Healy and Paddy McCourt also absent from the squad as they look to find new clubs, O'Neill will have to cast his net a little wider and to less experienced individuals this time and he has challenged them to make their mark.

Source: PA