Ian Baraclough: Northern Ireland manager will not overlook Nations League

Ian Baraclough
Ian Baraclough has succeeded Michael O'Neill as manager of Northern Ireland

New Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough insists he will not overlook the Nations League in the build-up to the Euro 2020 play-offs.

Northern Ireland have a play-offs semi-final in Bosnia-Herzegovina in October with the winners hosting Slovakia or the Republic of Ireland a month later.

But he will be first in charge in the Nations League double-header against Romania and Norway in early September.

"The Nations League was always going to be taken seriously," said Baraclough.

"It is important we do well in it because when the next qualifying campaign of the World Cup comes around, the way you perform in the Nations League might determine what pot you get chosen from.

"Certainly with only one team to go through automatically from each group in the World Cup it is important we put ourselves in as good a position as possible and not to be drawn in the same pot as Holland and Germany like we were in the last campaign."

Oliver Norwood in action for Northern Ireland against Bosnia-Herzegovina in the inaugural Nations League
Northern Ireland lost all four of the games in the inaugural Nations League - including defeats home and away by Bosnia-Herzegovina

NI lost all inaugural Nations League games

Northern Ireland lost all four of their games in the Nations League last time around - including home and away losses to Bosnia - as Michael O'Neill prioritised player development over results, and they were only spared relegation to League C by a reorganisation of the competition format.

Baraclough says there will be a greater emphasis on the games this time around, rejecting the idea they will simply be warm-ups for the rearranged match in Bosnia on 8 October, which was originally due to be played in March.

"The players will want to be involved against Bosnia and so they will have to perform against Romania and Norway."

After the Nations League trip to Romania on 4 September, Northern Ireland will host Norway in Baraclough's Windsor Park debut three days later.

It is too soon to know yet whether fans will be allowed into the stadium by then, but the new manager's dream is to have a full national stadium for a qualifying play-off against either the Republic of Ireland or Slovakia come 12 November.

"We've obviously got to be mindful people have lost their lives around the world to this, but people do look at football as something that's their route to normality, whatever that looks like.

"To have a packed national stadium at Windsor Park is something I can't wait for.

"Hopefully that will be November, fingers crossed, and it's a play-off final; a winner-takes-all to get to the Euros, that would be immense."