With Iain Dowie of Queen's Park Rangers and St Johnstone's George O'Boyle his only fit forwards, McMenemy was forced yesterday to delve into the Irish League and summon Linfield's Glenn Ferguson into his squad for today's European Championship game at home to Finland. The uncapped Ferguson, who cost pounds 55,000 from Glenavon, is required on his home ground because James Quinn of West Bromwich Albion has a hamstring injury.
For McMenemy, whose period as Graham Taylor's number two began with nine wins and three draws in 12 games, the honeymoon in Belfast was truncated more abruptly. After narrow victories over Slovakia and Switzerland, Northern Ireland were drubbed 4-1 in Spain and, more significantly, 3-0 in Turkey last month in the opening qualifying game for Euro 2000.
"You always think it's possible to get a result, but you also have an element of realism," he said yesterday. "In many ways, I'll be a little disappointed if we only draw. We've got to try and win the game."
West Ham's Steve Lomas having withdrawn, there are only two regular Premiership players in Northern Ireland's probable team, Michael Hughes of Wimbledon and the Leicester midfielder Neil Lennon, plus Newcastle's Keith Gillespie, who has recently been only a substitute under his new manager, Ruud Gullit.
Alan Fettis, Tim Flowers' understudy at Blackburn, is likely to keep his place in goal, with Hughes breaking forward to support Dowie, who won his 50th cap in Turkey and will have greater empathy with McMenemy since taking over as acting manager of QPR - it is difficult to say which of them has the more thankless task.
Like a West Indies team packed with English county championship players, Finland have ample experience of British conditions in a squad containing two players each from Rangers and Motherwell, plus representatives of Bolton, QPR, Preston and Wolves. The best-known of them, striker Mixu Paatelainen, is also the most capped player and leading scorer in the party, just ahead in both cases of the country's superstar, Jari Litmanen of Ajax.
Litmanen is one of the reasons that football is booming in Finland, challenging the popularity of the more traditional winter sports. A crowd of almost 20,000 watched their opening victory at home to Moldova and twice as many are expected for Germany's visit later in the competition. HJK Helsinki have this season become the first Finnish club to play in the Champions' League. If there is one encouraging piece of news for Northern Ireland in all this, it is that HJK's highly regarded captain, Jarkko Wiss, is injured and cannot play.
Under Richard Moller Nielsen, the coach who led Denmark to their 1992 European Championship success and was linked with Rangers last summer, Finland should have progressed further in the World Cup. Needing a home win over Hungary in their final qualifying group match to reach the play- offs, they were unexpectedly held, conceding an equaliser in the last minute.
Nielsen, an old friend of McMenemy's, will hope for sufficiently good results today and in Turkey on Wednesday to confirm his team as the strongest challengers in the group to Germany. The Germans, meanwhile, begin a new era today under Berti Vogts' successor, Erich Ribbeck, with their opening match away to the Turks.Reuse content