Sanchez talks up Wales as Irish look for third win

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The Independent Football

"Wales will be harder for us," he said of today's World Cup "qualifier", which cannot now lead to qualification or even a play-off spot for either club. However, Northern Ireland, who travel to Austria for the final Group Six match next week, could finish as high as third while Wales, who host Azerbaijan next week, have their own goals: trying to secure a first win in the group and to avoid finishing bottom.

"Wales are a bit like us, but with Premiership class up front and can call upon Giggs, Davies, Earnshaw and Hartson," Sanchez said. "Wales are wildly ahead of us in the rankings and I don't think we're favourites." Actually they are, with the bookmakers at least, whose pre-match odds point to slight advantage for Northern Ireland.

It is not hard to see why. Wales are not only depleted through injuries and still in the early stages of John Toshack's rebuilding programme, but are enduring their most barren spell in front of goal since the 1970s. They have not won for five games, or at all in qualifying, and have not scored since beating Hungary in a friendly in February. That equates to their worst goalless run in 31 years. Their last competitive goal came 51 weeks ago in a 3-2 home loss to Poland in this group.

Wales's plans suffered another setback yesterday when Lewis Price, the 21-year-old Ipswich goalkeeper who was expected to make his international debut, was injured in training. If he fails to recover, his place will be taken by 38-year-old Paul Jones, who should at least add some experience to a young side.

Mark Delaney is set to return to the centre of defence, after a three-game absence through injury, with James Collins joining him in place of his West Ham club-mate, Danny Gabbidon, who is suspended. Wales are without Danny Coyne, Craig Bellamy, Robert Page, Jason Koumas and Rob Edwards (all injured) but there is still unlikely to be a place in the starting line-up for the West Brom striker, Robert Earnshaw, who will probably have to make way for a front pairing of John Hartson and Ryan Giggs.

Sanchez has two absentees from the team who beat England, with Chris Baird suspended and Aaron Hughes injured. Burnley's Mike Duff and Rotherham's Colin Murdock are expected to deputise.

NORTHERN IRELAND (probable, 4-4-2): Taylor (Birmingham City); Duff (Burnley), Craigan (Motherwell), Murdock (Rotherham), Capaldi (Plymouth); Gillespie (Sheffield Utd), Davis (Aston Villa), Johnson (Birmingham), Elliott (Hull); Healy (Leeds), Quinn (Peterborough).

WALES (probable, 3-5-2): Price (Ipswich) or Jones (Wolves); Delaney (Aston Villa), Collins (West Ham), Partridge (Bristol City); Duffy (Coventry), Davies (Everton), Fletcher (West Ham), Robinson (Sunderland), Ricketts (Swansea); Hartson (Celtic), Giggs (Manchester United).

Referee: Ruud Bossen (Netherlands).

Kick-off 2pm. Live on BBC2, BBC1 Northern Ireland & SC4 from 1.45pm.