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Northern Ireland v Finland preview: Michael O'Neill keen to build momentum

Northern Ireland are seeking back-to-back wins to start their Euro 2024 qualifying campaign when Finland visit on Sunday.

Michael O'Neill's second stint in charge of the national side was always expected to yield three points when they travelled to minnows San Marino on Thursday. 

Dion Charles netted twice to get Northern Ireland on the board in Serravalle and they return to the home comfort of Windsor Park. 

Finland fell to a 3-1 defeat at Denmark, priced at 1/8 to top Group H, in their opening game and they face another tough assignment in Belfast. 

WhatNorthern Ireland v Finland
WhereWindsor Park, Belfast
When19:45, Sunday 26th March 2023
How to watchViaplay Sports 1
OddsNorthern Ireland 6/4, Draw 11/5, Finland 2/1

Northern Ireland youngsters starting to shine 

O'Neill insisted there is "no ceiling point" for some of the youngsters within his squad following the win over San Marino. 

Of course, victory over the lowest-ranked nation in world football isn't the best measuring stick but O'Neill was clearly impressed with the overall performance. 

Charles, who has registered 18 goals for Bolton this season, opened his account for the national side before ending the game with a brace and could potentially be a long-term answer to Northern Ireland's problems in front of goal. 

Charles, priced at 12/5 to Score Anytime, is looking to become just the third player to score in Northern Ireland's first two European Championship qualifying matches after Jimmy Quinn (Euro 1996 qualifying) and Kyle Lafferty (Euro 2016 qualifying).  

Teenagers Conor Bradley, Shea Charles and Isaac Price also caught the eye against San Marino and O'Neill appears to have a fair bit of depth to his squad. 

Denmark comfortably look the strongest nation in Group H but second spot, which secures a spot at Euro 2024, is firmly up for grabs with Slovenia, Northern Ireland, Finland and Kazakhstan set to battle it out. 

With that in mind, winning games at home is crucial for O'Neill's side and they are 6/4 To Win on Sunday.  

Northern Ireland are unbeaten in their last four games against Finland, winning two and drawing two, since a 1-0 friendly defeat in February 2003 and they ran out 2-1 winners when last hosting in 2015.

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Finland likely to fall short on the road 

Finland have lost their last three away matches in European Championship qualifying following Thursday's defeat in Denmark. 

In the previous qualifying campaign - ahead of Euro 2020 - they lost in Greece and Bosnia-Herzegovina. They come into Sunday's game in terrible form with just one win from their last nine across all competitions and on the back of three successive losses. 

The Eagle-owls do have a decent record when it comes to scoring on the road and did register in Denmark

Finland have scored at least one goal in five their last six away from home but four of those have ended in defeat. 

That suggests a Northern Ireland win with both teams to score, available at 11/2, could be the way to go.  

Oliver Antman, priced at 13/2 to Score Anytime, is one to watch after registering in each of his three starts for Finland, including Thursday's loss to Denmark. 

O'Neill unlikely to make wholesale changes 

After signing the praises of several young players, O'Neill is expected to stick largely with the XI that started on Thursday. 

He did admit that the game time of Conor Washington needs to be managed, though, so Josh Magennis could start in his place. 

Finland boss Markku Kanerva is also likely to be reluctant to tinker too much with the XI that gave a good account against Denmark in Copenhagen. 

Marcus Forss has been in good form for Middlesbrough and could be called in to start on either the flank or through the middle after getting a 15 minute cameo last time out. 

Veteran midfielder Rasmus Schuller missed the meeting with the Danes but will be hoping to come back in as he looks to win a 65th cap.

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