Northern Ireland team news: Centre-back Gareth McAuley declared fit for Euro 2020 qualifier against Belarus

23 Mar

Northern Ireland have been boosted by the return of centre-back Gareth McAuley from injury ahead of Sunday’s Euro 2020 qualifier against Belarus.

The Rangers defender missed Thursday’s Thursday’s 2-0 win over Estonia in Belfast with a hamstring problem but he is now available for selection again, manager Michael O’Neill has confirmed.

Gareth McAuley is back in the frame for Northern Ireland

However, Blackburn man Corry Evans [hamstring] and 23-year-old winger Gavin Whyte [thigh] remain on the sidelines and have been ruled out of the second qualifier.

“Gareth has come through and Gareth will be fine to be considered for tomorrow night,” O’Neill said on Saturday.

“Corry is not going to be fit and Gavin Whyte won’t be fit so the only real change is Gareth.”

Gareth McAuley celebrates his momentous goal against Ukraine at Euro 2016

McAuley, who has 80 international caps, played an integral part in Northern Ireland’s successful Euro 2016 qualifying campaign before becoming the first Northern Irishman to score at a major championships in 30 years.

Jonny Evans and Craig Cathcart were manager Michael O’Neill’s starting centre-back pairing and helped secure a clean sheet in the victory over Estonia.

Belarus suffered a 4-0 defeat against the Netherlands on Thursday night, but O’Neill still believes Sunday’s match is likely to be more difficult than their first game.

Steven Davies celebrates scoring Northern Ireland’s first goal against Estonia at Windsor Park

“I think they’ll possibly pose a greater threat, maybe counter-attacking wise and attacking wise, than Estonia did,” he said.

“We have to keep the performance level at the same level if not higher to get the result we hope for.”