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Germany should entertain in Windsor Park showdown

Gareth McAuley returns for Northern Ireland
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World Cup qualifier
Sky Sports Football, 7.45pm Thursday

There was a time when the World Cup winners were spared the rigmarole of having to qualify for the next tournament, but Germany look to have made light work of the task.

Joachim Low's side head into the last couple of Group C qualifiers knowing that a point will be enough to book their place in Russia, where they impressed last summer in winning the Confederations Cup.

They have won all eight of their matches and scored 35 goals in the process, so it has been a cruise.

Netting a 88th-minute winner on their trip to the Czech Republic has been the nearest they have come to a slip-up, but Northern Ireland have been their closest rivals and Michael O'Neill's side have built on their solid showing at the Euros.

Having been drawn against the world champions, gaining a place in the playoffs was their realistic aim and the campaign has gone so well that a second-place berth has been secured already.

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Solid defending has been the key to their success as Germany have been the only team to have scored against them in their eight matches.

And the special atmosphere of games at Windsor Park could stand them in good stead as they look to reach the finals for the first time since 1986.

After a 2-0 defeat in Hannover a year ago and a 1-0 loss to Germany in the Euros in Paris, this could be a game that is a lot more open.

Low has a squad brimming with young talent anxious to impress while Northern Ireland have failed to score in just two of their last 17 matches in Belfast.

Admittedly the quality of opposition they have faced has varied drastically, but they are capable of contributing to what should prove to be an entertaining clash, where neither team has much to lose and should be encouraged to play in a positive manner.

Over 2.5 goals
2pts 8-11 general

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Team news
Northern Ireland
Defenders Aaron Hughes and Craig Cathcart are ruled out but West Brom's Gareth McAuley returns after a thigh injury.

Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer has a broken foot, while Mesut Ozil is also missing. Strikers Timo Werner and Mario Gomez are injured. 

Key stat
There have been at least three goals in 15 of Germany's last 18 qualifying matches

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Having been drawn against the world champions, gaining a place in the playoffs was their realistic aim
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