Northern Ireland can go into Croatia friendly with genuine optimism

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Michael O'Neill's men host Croatia after comfortably dispatching Azerbaijan 4-0 on Friday night

Davis or Brunt?  Whoever scored Northern Ireland's fourth goal on Friday night, one thing remains, four goals were scored by four different players.  Exactly the kind of depth makes a trip to Russia 2018 a genuine possibility

Michael O'Neill's side will meet a team with much more quality, when Croatia visit Windsor park in an International Friendly on Tuesday night.  The likes of Modric and Rakitic make up a much more formidable midfield than Makhmudov and Amirguliyev.

However, Northern Ireland can take plenty of confidence into that game after Friday night's win.  It wasn't just the three points, but the manner of their victory over Azerbaijan which will fill Michael O'Neill with optimism.

Another Croat, Robert Prosenecki was at the helm of an Azerbaijan side, that went into Friday unbeaten in the group and yet to concede a goal.  However after Kyle Lafferty fired in the opener on 27 minutes, the result was never in doubt.  

A side that had previously struggled in front of goal, needing a late flurry of goals to make safe a win over San Marino last month, put on a display of real attacking quality as they swept aside Prosenecki's team.  In the first half in particular, Northern Ireland poured forward in waves, while rarely leaving themselves exposed.  

Azerbaijan had previously looked like a well-organised defensive unit going into the game, but after Gareth McAuley added to Lafferty's opener, the side from the Southern Caucasus would never recover.  They may have seen a little more possession in the second half, however they rarely threatened McGovern in goal.

Conor Mclaughin made it 3-0, while there was some debate over who scored the fourth.  Chris Brunt shot low from the left hand side, and the ball may or may not have taken a slight nick of Steven Davis' before beating Kamran Agayev in goal.

Davis wasn't too concerned with who scored the goal, instead he was happy to see Chris Brunt back in the side following a long absence through injury.  Brunt made his return to the international set up with a fine performance, and will perhaps relish a chance to play against Croatia.

Northern Ireland now sit second in the group, having only conceded against the Germany.  And a good result over Croatia will only improve the side's confidence




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