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
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
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.