Kazakhstan vs Northern Ireland predictions: Kazakhs can make Astana advantage count
Northern Ireland began their bid for a place the European Championship in Germany with a 2-0 victory over San Marino but then lost their next three games without scoring.
They did manage to end their goal drought in Slovenia earlier this week, but were unable to claim any points as they succumbed to a 4-2 defeat.
Michael O’Neill’s men find themselves seven points adrift of Denmark in second place with just five games remaining, while they are nine behind Group H leaders Finland.
Kazakhstan have put themselves in an excellent position to reach the European Championships for the first time in their history as they have nine points on the board, and a win on Sunday could see them move into the top two as Finland and Denmark play each other.
The Hawks also have the added safety net of knowing they will be involved in a play-off even if they miss out on a top-two finish thanks to their performance in the Nations League.
Northern Ireland come into the game after going down 4-2 in Slovenia on Thursday and O’Neill may opt to stick with the same starting XI despite that loss.
The Green and White Army were perhaps unlucky in Ljubljana as they enjoyed more possession and created more chances than their hosts.
If the manager does decide to tinker with his first XI, Josh Magennis could come in for Dion Charles in attack after replacing the Bolton striker at half-time in the defeat to Slovenia, while Paul Smyth, Conor Washington and Ali McCann are other options who could come into the starting side.
Kazakhstan went down 1-0 at home to Finland earlier this week and have no fresh injury concerns, although 21-year-old Maksim Samorodov could drop out of the starting line-up after being replaced at half-time in that loss to the Finns.
Northern Ireland have lost their last four games and defeat on Sunday would mark the first time since 2012 that they have lost more than four in a row.
Northern Ireland have lost four of their last five away games, with their one win during that run coming against minnows San Marino.
Kazakhstan have won four of their last six home fixtures and that run includes a huge 3-2 victory over a strong Denmark side, as well as a win over Slovakia in the Nations League.
The Kazakhs won the reverse fixture 1-0 and they were perhaps fortunate in Belfast to come out on top, but they competed well and deserved a result even if three points flattered them on the day.
The pressure is really on Northern Ireland as defeat would essentially spell the end of their Euro 2024 chances, even if a loss would not mathematically confirm their absence from next year’s main event in Germany.
The Green and White Army were in a similar position in Slovenia and they struggled to handle the pressure, falling 3-1 behind in the first half despite forging out enough chances to stay in the game.
In contrast, Kazakhstan should head into the game in buoyant mood despite their defeat to Finland, and they are under less pressure due to the fact they will be in a play-off if they miss out on the top two.
Magomed Adiyev’s men look backable underdogs given the fact they won in Belfast and have home advantage.
Kazakhstan know they have a real opportunity to reach a first ever major tournament after their strong start to qualifying, and they can boost their chances by doing the double over this out-of-sorts Northern Ireland side.
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