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Last Updated: Monday, 4 September 2006, 11:37 GMT 12:37 UK
NI back to reality
By John Haughey
BBC Sport

Northern Ireland manager Lawrie Sanchez
Lawrie Sanchez will surely opt for changes to his line-up
Northern Ireland fans have become past masters at looking on the bright side but it was hard to take any positives from Saturday's 3-0 defeat by Iceland.

Lawrie Sanchez's players had gone into the game with one million good reasons to perform after Jim Boyce's revelation that the squad would get a seven-figure bonus if they qualified for Euro 2008.

That financial carrot was dangled after the apparent promise of the last World Cup qualifying campaign - or more accurately 'that win' over Sven-Goran Eriksson's shambolic England.

However, the optimistic bubble floating over the Northern Ireland camp in the run-up to Saturday's opening Euro 2008 qualifier had been well and truly burst by the 20th minute with Iceland already 2-0 up.

By the 36th minute, Eidur Gudjohnsen, who inexplicably had been given the freedom of Windsor Park, netted the visitors' third goal and it was game over.

The second half was largely a non-event although David Healy did have the ball in the Iceland net only for the effort to be correctly ruled out for a foul by Stuart Elliott.

Prior to Saturday's game, Northern Ireland fans had been talking expectantly of the team getting four points from the game against Iceland and Wednesday's clash with group favourites Spain at Windsor.

Hopefully, the Northern Ireland manager will devise a more effective plan to tackle Raul and Company

However despite the predictable noises from Sanchez about Northern Ireland raising their game when they take on stronger nations, there will be a sense of foreboding as Wednesday's game approaches.

Hopefully, the Northern Ireland manager will devise a more effective plan to tackle Raul and Company.

Central midfielders Steve Davis and Sammy Clingan showed industry in terms of helping their attack but the need for a man-marker to shackle former Chelsea star Gudjohnsen was blindingly obvious from early on to everyone in the ground - apart from the Northern Ireland boss.

With no Claude Makelele type player or Roy Keane clone in his squad, Sanchez may be forced to employ Davis in a more defensive role and the Aston Villa man has the talents to make a reasonable fist of this.

Suffice to say, Sanchez should be putting his defenders through plenty of work on the training ground over the next 48 hours.

Aaron Hughes will surely perform better after producing one of his worst displays in a Northern Ireland jersey but his central defensive partner Stephen Craigan may find himself on the bench after a game to forget.

NI fans deserve better for their hard-earned money on Wednesday

One of the biggest disappointments in recent games has been the struggles of left-back Tony Capaldi who has become increasingly prone to glaring errors after looking highly promising during the initial stages of his international career.

Northern Ireland's problems on Saturday were not in attack but it still may be worth pitching in Kyle Lafferty from the start in place of James Quinn.

Quinn has been a great servant to Northern Ireland but increasingly his bustling approach is falling foul of referees with free-kicks being needlessly conceded.

Being the kind of optimistic and loyal folk that they are, Northern Ireland fans will dust themselves down for Wednesday's sell-out game and get ready to shout themselves hoarse once more.

However, those same fans booed the Northern Ireland players after Saturday's game and they deserve better for their hard-earned money on Wednesday.

Evans receives N Ireland call-up
03 Sep 06 |  Internationals
Boss Sanchez deflated by defeat
02 Sep 06 |  Internationals
Northern Ireland 0-3 Iceland
02 Sep 06 |  Internationals
Euro 2008 tables
02 Sep 06 |  Internationals

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