Azerbaijan vs. Northern Ireland: Date, Time, Live Stream, TV Info and Preview
Northern Ireland and Azerbaijan have both been eliminated from World Cup contention heading into the final set of qualifying matches. It doesn't render the match useless, however, because international football always has another competition on the horizon.
For these sides that would be qualification for Euro 2016. Although they will once again enter as underdogs, the most important thing is building hope for the future. That effort starts with strong performances in the remaining qualifiers.
Northern Ireland would gain confidence from going on the road and picking up a victory. Azerbaijan would benefit from picking up its first win of the World Cup cycle after five draws and three losses. It's all about the small victories right now.
With that in mind, let's check out all the key viewing information for the qualifying clash, followed by analysis of the top storyline and a match prediction.
What's your match prediction?
Where: Bakcell Arena in Baku, Azerbaijan
When: Friday, Oct. 11 at 12 p.m. ET (5 p.m. BST)
Watch: Sky Sports 3
Live Stream: ESPN3.com
Match Odds (via Bovada)
Northern Ireland: +210
Top Storyline: Will either side show signs of progress as qualifying winds down?
Northern Ireland had some promising results during UEFA Group F. It earned a road draw with Portugal and scored a home triumph over the current group leaders, Russia. The Norn Iron weren't able to maintain that level of play, however.
After tying Portugal, they were only able to muster a home draw with Azerbaijan. Following the victory over Russia, they were handled easily by Portugal in the rematch. So it comes down to finding a way to maintain top form instead of just flashing it in certain fixtures.
The squad called up for the final two qualifiers is a good mix of veteran leaders and the next wave of players hoping to take Northern Ireland to the next level. Players like Shane Ferguson and Lee Hodson can learn a lot from the likes of Steven Davis and Aaron Hughes.
As for Azerbaijan, its game plan throughout qualifying was smart. The coaching staff understood it couldn't match the talent level of the other squads, especially those like Russia and Portugal, so it used a conservative, defensive-minded approach.
The result has been just 10 goals allowed through eight matches, good for third in the group, but also a group-low four goals. Until the country is able to develop more talented attacking players, turning those draws into wins will be a challenge.
That said, brighter days may be on the horizon. Of all the midfielders and forwards called up for the qualifiers, only three are older than 25. The younger players will benefit from further international experience as the Milli search for an attacking star.
So although neither side will be heading to Brazil next summer, there's still a lot to play for in the qualifier with an eye toward the future.
Expect a hard-fought, low-scoring match. Even though it doesn't have a World Cup impact, the players are fighting for more opportunities moving forward, meaning there shouldn't be a major drop-off in the level of play overall.
All told, Northern Ireland is the slightly more talented squad, but Azerbaijan is at home. Those two factors should offset, leading to a very competitive draw. It would send both sides into the final qualifier with some added confidence.
Azerbaijan 1, Northern Ireland 1
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