Fate inspires Worthington to believe in Irish surprise

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The Independent Football

Whatever way it is described: win or bust, make or break, the apparently decisive magnitude of the phrase still fails to encapsulate the task facing Northern Ireland against Spain this evening. The Irish must win in Las Palmas but even then it would not necessarily be enough to see the Irish through to Euro 2008. Nigel Worthington and his players must also wait to hear news of the result between Latvia and Sweden in Stockholm.

"We need only one point from Latvia," said Sweden striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic. "I don't see anything stopping us from achieving that."

For Northern Ireland's sake, Ibrahimovic's confidence could lead to complacency but, even so, Latvia need to pull out their best result of the group so far.

Omens are clung on to at such junctures and so rather than focus on Latvia's defeat in Liechtenstein in March, it pays to review the final game of the last European Championship qualifying campaign. Sweden and Latvia were drawn in the same group then and Latvia won 1-0 in Stockholm.

It is a result that was being mentioned around the Irish camp yesterday. Suspensions to Keith Gillespie and Jonny Evans have made their job harder but the news seeping out of Spain is they will not be fielding their strongest XI.

Having qualified by beating Sweden on Saturday, Spain's manager Luis Aragones wants to test his squad strength. There may be nine changes from the Sweden game. Liverpool's Jose Reina is set to replace Iker Casillas for the evening.

The rumour has fuelled Irish belief and Worthington spoke optimistically yesterday afternoon. After a quip from David Healy regarding player bonuses, and after statistics revealing Northern Ireland have beaten Spain twice in 17 meetings had been displayed, Worthington was asked about fate.

"Actually I do believe in fate," Worthington replied. "Sweden have had a couple of opportunities to seal their qualification and are now on a bit of a downward spiral, while Latvia scored four at the weekend and are on a bit of an upward turn.

"What this group have achieved for Northern Ireland up to now has been excellent. We want to go one step further and will do everything in our power to achieve that."

Northern Ireland (probable 4-4-2): Taylor; McAuley, Craigan, Hughes, Baird; Sproule, Davis, Clingan, Brunt; Lafferty, Healy.

Spain (possible 4-4-2): Reina; Ramos, Pablo, Albiol, Pernia; Senna, Joaquin, Silva, Rieira; Tamudo, Villa.