Ainsworth returns to Millers

Russia defender Aleksandr Anyukov is more than aware of the

threat posed by Northern Ireland to his side’s domination of World

Cup qualifying Group F.

Fabio Capello’s men have claimed maximum points from their first

four qualifying games – without conceding a goal – but Northern

Ireland still enjoy an outside chance of finishing in the top two

after claiming three points from draws against Luxembourg, Portugal

and Azerbaijan.

Russia meet Michael O’Neill’s team in Belfast on Friday night

and Anyukov urged his team-mates to stay 100 per cent focused at

Windsor Park.

He told the Russian Football Union’s official website: “It will

be a difficult game and we need to concentrate, but we all know

what our own strengths are.

“As long as we don’t relax then all will be well. They are a

good team who play an English style of football. In principle all

the British teams are in the same vein.”

Referring to Northern Ireland’s result in Portugal, in which

Helder Postiga denied the visitors all three points with a late

goal, Anyukov added: “I wasn’t surprised.

“Any team can take points from the group leaders, even outsiders

for qualification. I repeat, the main thing for us is that we don’t


Capello should keep faith with goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev, who is

looking to keep a 10th consecutive international clean sheet, while

partnering Dynamo Moscow’s Alexander Kokorin with Alexander

Kerzhakov of Zenit St Petersburg in attack.

Northern Ireland boss O’Neill is looking for a first win since

taking the job and can call on returning striker Martin Paterson

while defender Chris Baird misses out through suspension.

Portugal, meanwhile, visit Ramat Gan with a view to wresting

second place from Israel’s grasp.

Eli Guttman’s side currently edge the Selecao into third by

virtue of a superior goal difference, generated principally through

6-0 and 3-0 victories over Luxembourg, who Portugal could only beat

2-1 in September.

Visiting coach Paulo Bento faces a nervous wait on the condition

of Porto playmaker Joao Moutinho, who is struggling for


“I say this in all sincerity and using my common sense but

Moutinho will not play unless he is 100 per cent ready,” Bento


Luxembourg are ranked 151st in the world and host Azerbaijan,

who have already earned creditable 1-1 draws against Israel and

Northern Ireland. Luxembourg also took a point from the British


The 25-year-old attacking midfielder joined the Shots on a

two-month deal in January and made seven appearances in total,

starting the club’s last two games against Burton and AFC Wimbledon


Ainsworth returns to the Millers in time for their home clash

against Exeter on Saturday.