Walsall striker Will Grigg is set to miss Northern Ireland's qualifiers against Russia and Israel. He made his first international start in last month's goalless draw in Malta and was favourite to lead the line against Russia in the absence of the suspended Kyle Lafferty. But he was unable to train on Wednesday due to a hamstring problem and it is understood he will play no part in the Belfast double header. Manager Michael O'Neill, still chasing his first win at the helm, has a number of options up front but none with a proven record at this level. Burnley's Martin Paterson, back in the fold after a self-imposed exile, will be expected to start as a lone striker but O'Neill also has Inverness forward Billy McKay and Aberdeen pair Niall McGinn and Josh Magennis available. Chris Baird is also out suspended.
Russia boss Fabio Capello is expected to keep faith with his first-choice goalkeeper Igor Akinfeyev and is likely to pair Dynamo Moscow's Alexander Kokorin with misfiring Zenit St Petersburg striker Alexander Kerzhakov in attack. Akinfeyev, 26, will be looking to keep a 10th consecutive international clean sheet and extend the all-time record for Russia and the Soviet Union. Former Russia captain Andrei Arshavin, of Arsenal, and experienced Reading striker Pavel Pogrebnyak were left out of the squad.
Michael O'Neill: "Sammy (Clingan) has had a difficult six or seven months and the club situation has been a bit up and down. I encouraged him in coming to Scotland, that it would be a good option to consider and I've seen him three times now. I've been impressed and he's getting better and better."
Fabio Capello: "A win in Belfast would take us a huge step towards the World Cup in Brazil. A positive result against the Irish would allow us to go to Portugal without too much pressure. Portugal would then feel all the pressure as they need to make up ground on us. That's why I say the Belfast game is the most important."
Russia are unbeaten in five previous clashes with Northern Ireland (including as Soviet Union), winning three and drawing two.
Both draws between these two sides, however, have occurred in their two clashes in Belfast, with Russia winning all three home games against Northern Ireland without conceding a goal.
Russia have only lost one of their last 24 internationals in all competitions, winning 13 and drawing 10.
Roman Shirokov has scored in Russia’s last three internationals and in four of their last six, including a goal against Northern Ireland last September.
Northern Ireland are winless in 12 international games (D5 L7) since defeating Faroe Islands 4-0 in August 2011.
Northern Ireland 7/1, Russia 8/15, Draw 5/2
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- Northern Ireland