Talking points ahead of Northern Ireland Nations League opener v Greece

Northern Ireland kick off their new Nations League campaign when Greece travel to Windsor Park on Thursday night.

The game is the first of a four-header that will also see Ian Baraclough’s side face Cyprus away and at home, either side of a trip to Kosovo.

Here, the PA news agency takes a look at the talking points around Thursday’s game.

Room for improvement

Northern Ireland has never had a happy relationship with the Nations League. Their record in the competition is a miserable read: 10 games played, two draws, eight defeats and no wins – scoring just six and conceding 18 along the way. They only avoided relegation the first time around as the competition was reformatted, but League C was the inevitable conclusion the second time around. But after falling, Northern Ireland start as top seeds in their group and with hopes of finding a way to qualify for the European play-offs.

Greece is the word

Gus Poyet took charge of Greece in February (Owen Humphreys/PA)

The visit of Gus Poyet’s men will bring back fond memories for Northern Irish fans – their last two meetings against Piratiko were key wins in Euro 2016 qualifying, 2-0 in Athens and 3-1 in Belfast. Since then, Greece have also missed out on the 2018 World Cup and Euro 2020, with their squad undergoing a rebuild as the 2004 European champions look to move up the table. They have never been superior to League C in the Nations League.

The return of Lafferty

Northern Ireland v USA - International Friendly - Windsor Park
Kyle Lafferty’s last international goal came in 2016 (Liam McBurney/PA)

There’s a familiar face in the 28-man squad as Kyle Lafferty is called up for the first time in nearly a year. The 34-year-old is Northern Ireland’s second-highest goalscorer with 20 goals for his country, but the last of those came in 2016, and he’s been overlooked in recent windows in a time when he’s taken a succession of short-term contracts. in different clubs across Europe. But after scoring eight goals in 14 to help send Kilmarnock back to the Scottish Premiership, he could hardly be ignored at a time when Josh Magennis is injured.

The McMenamin Moment

Although Lafferty is a familiar face on the team, there are also plenty of new ones. As Shea Charles, Brodie Spencer and Charlie McCann graduated from the Under-21s, the most eye-catching call-up was Glentoran’s Conor McMenamin. The 26-year-old has never played for his country at any level but after scoring 22 goals for Glentoran this season he had the chance to impress during an end-of-season training camp and has did enough to convince Baraclough that he might have a role to play.

Davis’ future resolved

The timing of Rangers’ announcement of a new one-year deal for Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis was surely no coincidence. Confirmation came on Tuesday night, ensuring the 37-year-old doesn’t, for once, face questions over the dreaded word ‘retirement’ while handling media duties at Windsor Park .

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