Northern Ireland lost all four of the games in the Nations League last time around
By PA Media
Last Updated: 04/07/20 10:33pm
Ian Baraclough wants to ensure Northern Ireland do not disregard the Nations League as they enjoy their Euro 2020 qualifying play-off semi-final against Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Baraclough, named as Michael O’Neill’s successor last weekend, gets control a Northern Ireland side potentially two games far from the Euros. But before October’s visit to Bosnia, Baraclough’s first games in charge will come against Romania and Norway in the Nations League in September.
Northern Ireland lost all of their games in the Nations League last time around – including home and away losses to Bosnia – as O’Neill prioritised player development over results, plus they were only spared relegation to League C with a reorganisation of the competition format.
Baraclough said there would be a greater emphasis on the games now, rejecting the theory they would simply be warm-ups for the rearranged match in Bosnia, originally because of be played in March.
“The Nations League was always going to be taken seriously,” that he said.
“It’s a competition you want to do well in and it is crucial we excel in it since when the next qualifying campaign of the World Cup comes around, the manner in which you perform in the Nations League may determine what pot you get plumped for from.
“Certainly with only one team to go through automatically from each group in the World Cup it’s important we put ourselves in as good a situation as possible rather than to be drawn in exactly the same pot as Holland and Germany like we were in the last campaign.
“The players will want to be involved against Bosnia and so they will have to perform against Romania and Norway.”
After the visit to Romania on September 4, Northern Ireland will host Norway in Baraclough’s Windsor Park debut three days later.
It is too soon to learn yet whether fans will be allowed into the stadium by then, nevertheless the new manager’s dream is always to have a complete national stadium for a qualifying play-off against either the Republic of Ireland or Slovakia come November.
“For the Northern Irish public to be able to walk down the street, cross the bridge, get into the entrance, find the seat they normally sit on – that’s the bit of normality of their life coming back again after this wretched period,” he said.
“We’ve obviously surely got to be mindful individuals have lost their lives all over the world to this, but people do look at football as something that’s their approach to normality, whatever that seems like.
“To have a packed national stadium at Windsor Park is something I can’t await.
“Hopefully that will be November, fingers crossed, and it’s a play-off final; a winner-takes-all to get to the Euros, that would be immense.”