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Page last updated at 12:57 GMT, Sunday, 7 February 2010

Northern Ireland face Italy in tough European group

Northern Ireland's David Healy in action against Italy's Riccardo Montolivo
A weakened Northern Ireland side lost 3-0 in Italy in June 2009

Northern Ireland have been drawn against world champions Italy in the European Championship qualifiers.

They will also face Serbia, Slovenia, Estonia and the Faroe Islands who are managed by former Republic of Ireland boss Brian Kerr.

Northern Ireland lost 1-0 at home to Serbia in their last match in November.

Giovanni Trapattoni's Republic of Ireland have been drawn in the same group as Russia, Slovakia, FYR Macedonia, Armenia and Andorra.

Northern Ireland will face a tough task as they attempt to make the European finals for the first time.

As well as Italy, they have been handed difficult assignments in Serbia and Slovenia who both qualified for the World Cup finals in South Africa.

But Northern Ireland manager Nigel Worthington said he was pleased with the draw.

"I would rather play the bigger nations because from a player's point of view to get up for those games is not so much of a problem," he said.

"It is a tough group. Three of the teams have qualified for the World Cup which shows you how good it is.

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"There will be a lot of good football in it and I expect all teams will take points off each other."

Slovenia finished runners-up in Northern Ireland's group - despite a 1-0 defeat in Belfast - and beat Russia in the play-offs.

Serbia gained automatic qualification by topping group seven.

Northern Ireland's preparations for the Euro qualifiers begin with a friendly against Albania in Tirana on 3 March.

The Republic of Ireland may fancy their chances slightly more than their northern neighbours.

After missing out on a World Cup place after that controversial hand-ball goal in Paris, they will be desperate to secure a place in Poland and the Ukraine.



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see also
Northern Ireland 0-1 Serbia
14 Nov 09 |  Internationals
Italy 3-0 Northern Ireland
06 Jun 09 |  Internationals


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