Norwood's Northern Ireland prepare for huge qualifierRoyals midfield maestro Oliver Norwood and the Northern Ireland squad will face Romania on Saturday in their vital European qualifying match in Belfast.
Last time the teams met, in the reverse fixture back in November, Anghel Iordanescu’s men came out on top with a 2-0 victory in Bucharest – although Michael O’Neill believes that his side will be a very different proposition this time around.
“We were down the likes of Steven Davis, Jonny Evans, Jamie Ward and Shane Ferguson,” he said ahead of hosting the group leaders this weekend.
“The squad we have here is stronger than last November, we’ll approach the game in a confident frame of mind and with optimism.”
O'Neill believes that 18 points would all but guarantee a top-three finish, but insists that his team mustn’t get carried away and stay competitive right until the end of the group.
"Our aim is to keep this distance between ourselves and Hungary and Finland and also to increase that if possible and three points will help us do that, given that they are playing each other."
Northern Ireland haven’t qualified for a major finals since the Mexico World Cup in 1968, but at the moment they lie second in Group F just a point behind Romania, and a triumph at Windsor Park would see them become the new pace-setters with four matches left to play.
The defeat in Bucharest remains Northern Ireland’s only Group F loss, having won their other four qualifying games and scored twice in each of their last three competitive home matches at Windsor Park.
Romania however boast an unbeaten record in the group so far and have won both of their previous away games. They’ve also only conceded one goal in the competition to date, but O’Neill’s men will take heart in knowing that they have not won three competitive away games in a row since Euro 2008.
Norwood has started in every qualifying game so far, and if he steps out on Saturday night, he will be pitting his wits against a Romanian side deprived of their first choice keeper Costel Pantilimon, who is still recovering from a knee injury that he picked up whilst on duty with Premier League Sunderland.
You can tune in to watch Olly Norwood in action for Northern Ireland against Romania live on Sky Sports 5, Kick-off 7.45 pm on Saturday.