Sanchez confident of overtaking Republic in rankings

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Lawrie Sanchez is determined to overtake the Republic of Ireland in the Fifa world rankings and end 20 years of hurt. Northern Ireland have lived in the shadow of their neighbours since the 1986 World Cup finals. While they have failed to qualify for a major tournament since then, the Republic have prospered - until now.

A humiliating defeat by Cyprus at the weekend only emphasised how well Northern Ireland did to secure a point against Denmark. And the gap between the Irish nations is getting narrower going into tonight's games. The Republic (ranked 43) face the Czech Republic while Northern Ireland (58) take on Latvia.

Having overtaken Wales, who suffered a 5-1 home defeat to Slovakia, in the world rankings, Sanchez wants to push on. But he has sympathy for the plight of his rival managers Steve Staunton (Republic) and John Toshack (Wales).

Sanchez said: "It is ironic that, when I took over, Scotland and ourselves were in the doldrums. Wales and the Republic were in the ascendancy. It's gone the other way. But that is football.

"I would like to think we could go above the Republic in the rankings. That would be an amazing achievement, but it will be difficult because the Republic will come strong again. I am sure Wales will bounce back as well."

Northern Ireland go into the match sitting in third place, but Sanchez is wary of the threat Latvia pose. A 4-0 victory against Iceland show they must be respected. Sanchez said: "Latvia have had a bad time since qualifying for the finals of Euro 2004, but we have to take them very seriously and [tonight] will determine how much a chance of qualifying we have got."

Damien Johnson is expected to replace Michael Duff, who is suspended.