Experience a bonus for O’Neill

Northern Ireland head coach Michael O'Neill believes age and experience are two major factors which continue to drive his players on.

O'Neill and his squad bring down the curtain on a superb 2016 with a Belfast friendly against Croatia on Tuesday evening, with the Irish aiming to end on yet another high note.

The summer saw them appear at a first-ever European Championship finals tournament, with O'Neill's men acquitting themselves well to progress to the knockout stages, before being edged out 1-0 by Wales.

Since then they have started well in World Cup qualifying and are currently in second place in Group C behind world champions Germany.

And O'Neill has pointed to the ageing nature of his squad as a plus rather than a minus, saying: "A lot of our key players are 30-plus, but maybe what that gives us in our favour is they don't want this to stop, they want it to last as long as it can.

"When you've played a lot of international football you want it to last as long as possible, because they have played through some dark days as well.

"The legacy, hopefully, this group of players leave is a positive one, not only from the Euros but going forward, because they genuinely want to go to a World Cup and push for that and be in contention for that."

Croatia and Northern Ireland have never met before on the international stage and the visitors arrive having won their last three games without conceding a goal.

The Croats are 6/5 to keep another clean sheet on Tuesday evening, with a goalless draw priced at 6/1, while Kyle Lafferty – who has scored three times in his last three Ireland appearances – is 3/1 to find the net at any time.

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Busquets talks up England clash

Spain midfielder Sergio Busquets says he and his team-mates are preparing for a 'big game' against England at Wembley on Tuesday evening.

Both sides have taken ten points from a possible 12 in their World Cup qualifying campaigns to date, but will take time away from competitive action to face off in London.

However, Barcelona star Busquets believes that there will still be plenty on the line for two teams who he feels are in similar positions.

He told reporters: "England are a great side full of top players. Like ourselves a little bit recently, they've not done so well in tournaments.

"They've not had the best of fortune in the World Cup and the Euros, but it's still a big game, both for individuals in the Spanish set-up and also as a group, as a team.

"We're a new group, we've got lots of new faces, youngsters who joined the group recently and we've not made so many games with the new manager.

"It's a great opportunity to fight and battle against a top side and continue to progress as a team."

Manchester City playmaker David Silva is a major doubt for Spain due to a foot problem, while head coach Julen Lopetegui is expected to give debuts to both Manchester United midfielder Ander Herrera and former Liverpool forward Iago Aspas, who has impressed for Celta Vigo this season.

Spain have won four of their last five meetings with England, but lost 1-0 on their last visit to Wembley, with Frank Lampard scoring the only goal of the game in November 2011.

The visitors are 17/10 to claim victory on Tuesday evening, with the draw priced at 11/5, while England can be backed at 15/2 to secure another 1-0 victory.

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Lampard set for new challenge

Former England midfielder Frank Lampard says he is ready for the next chapter of his career after confirming he is to leave MLS outfit New York City.

The 38-year-old failed to guide City to the MLS title but did manage to bag himself 15 goals in 31 appearances through the regular season and the playoffs.

Lampard has been tightlipped on where he will be playing next or if indeed that is the end of his playing career which has seen the playmaker win three Premier League titles, four FA Cups, the Champions League and the Europa League.

He wrote on his Instagram account: "I have very much enjoyed my time, and I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to play for such a great club and in such an incredible city.

"I leave with many great memories as I embark on the next stage of my career and I’ll be making an announcement very soon."

Meanwhile Lampard's former clubs Chelsea and Manchester City are 1/250 and 4500/1 respectively to win the Premier League this season, while his first top flight side West Ham are 1000/1 to be relegated to the Championship this term.

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Depay coy on United future

Manchester United winger Memphis Depay has admitted he does not know whether he will remain at Old Trafford beyond the January transfer window.

The Dutch international, who scored a brace for the Netherlands on Sunday to help them beat Luxemburg 3-1, has struggled for minutes this season under United boss Jose Mourinho.

Much was expected of Depay when he first made the switch from PSV Eindhoven last summer for big money, after impressing in the Dutch top flight.

However the 22-year-old has so far failed to live up to his billing and has been linked with a move away from Red Devils in January, with fellow Premier League outfit Everton thought to be interested.

Depay has admitted he is not certain regarding his United future but is working hard to try and force his way into Mourinho’s plans before making any decisions over the coming weeks.

He said following the Netherlands' latest victory: "I do not know, we'll have to see. I focus on United, I do my very best to be able to get minutes.

"I'm going back to United with a good feeling, because I have got minutes here and we won. That is the most important thing."

Manchester United are 1000/1 to finish in the top four this season, while they are 4500/1 to go on and win the Premier League title this term.

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Sturridge earns Southgate praise

England interim boss Gareth Southgate has hailed Daniel Sturridge's talents as the Three Lions prepare to host Spain at Wembley on Tuesday.

The Liverpool striker, who has been struggling for regular game time at Anfield this season under the Reds manager Jurgen Klopp, bagged himself the opening goal in the 3-0 win over Scotland on Friday night.

Sturridge has put himself in a good position to be in the starting lineup for England once again on Tuesday night and Southgate has been impressed with what he has seen from the 27-year-old in the Three Lions camp.

He told reporters on Monday: "He is a goalscorer, a talented player and his mentality to working with us has been excellent. Every striker has a slightly different way of playing and he has some brilliant footwork, he likes to drop into different areas of the field.

"He works for the team, he wants to be part of the team. All goalscorers are slightly individual but I don't see any more of that in Daniel than any other forward."

Monday's press conference also saw Southgate confirm that skipper Wayne Rooney, who has a minor injury, would not be starting against Spain and that Liverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson would be carrying the armband.

England are 19/10 to win, 11/5 to draw and 17/10 to lose to Spain in London.

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Maclaren ready to grab Socceroos chance

Jamie Maclaren is delighted his early-season form with Brisbane Roar earned him the chance to return to the Socceroos fold.

The young striker could lead the line for Ange Postecoglou's side when they take on Thailand in Bangkok in their 2018 World Cup qualifier.

He is ready to take his opportunity, with the national coach having left out Tim Cahill (Achilles) and Tomi Juric (knee).

Postecoglou spoke publicly of his intention to recall Maclaren to the national team providing he started scoring in the A-League.

He's not featured for the Socceroos since making his debut in a friendly against England in May.

Maclaren's 20 goals last season for the Roar put him in contention, and having failed to hit the net in the opening three rounds this time he knew he needed to rediscover his touch to get picked again.

The 23-year-old responded with goals in back-to-back wins over Perth Glory and Melbourne City.

He said: "I saw an article from the boss, saying 'if Jamie scores goals he's back in the national team'. That was a little bit of motivation.

"It started a little bit slow this year, but I always knew that my teammates would create chances for me. To get two in two, it opens the door and now I'm full of confidence."

If Maclaren starts in Bangkok it would double as his competitive international debut.

Postecoglou's expected to give Robbie Kruse and Mathew Leckie the nod to flank the Roar ace at centre-forward.

The coach is sure Maclaren's up to the task. "He wouldn't be here if I didn't think he was ready," said Postecoglou. "There's no ideal time – if you wait for players to gain experience or feel better about themselves that opportunity may never come."

Australia are 1/4 to beat Thailand, who are 10/1 with the draw 19/4.

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Krishna: Hard work paying off now for Phoenix

In-form striker Roy Krishna believes Wellington Phoenix have turned a corner in their season after collecting back-to-back victories.

Ernie Merrick's side were at the foot of the table after the opening four rounds, without a point and having scored only one goal.

But the mood in the camp has been lifted by wins over Newcastle and Central Coast.

The success against the Mariners in Canberra was particularly significant, as it came with the Phoenix missing five top players due to international call-ups.

Fiji international Krishna has led the line well, and notched the first goal in the 2-0 win at GIO Stadium – it took his tally to four goals in three games. He also set up the second for Hamish Watson in the second half.

"We're working hard in training and finally [the goals are] coming," said the speedster. "We can see that hard work pays. We dug deep and at first the results for us weren't coming [but now] it shows."

Krishna believes it's "our turn" for the Phoenix, as they look to put their unexpectedly poor start behind them and climb into the top six as soon as possible.

He had praise for the likes of Watson, Lewis Italiano and Ryan Lowry who earned chances in the absence of the New Zealand internationals.

"It's up to Ernie (whether they stay in the side) but credit goes to the young ones, they stepped up today," he said. "They deserved to play and they did a good job."

Krishna earned plenty of praise from his coach, who said the striker's speed enable the to put a specific plan into place to get the better of the Mariners.

"I thought that was a very important game for us to win," said Merrick. "Roy was on fire up front and his pace is incredible … we relied on fast-breaking play and I thought Roy, Hamish (Watson) and Roly (Bonevacia) were first class there."

Wellington are 21/10 to win their next game against Melbourne Victory, who are 5/4 with the draw 12/5.

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Buhagiar cameo puts him in line for start

Trent Buhagiar may get his chance to start for Central Coast in Sunday's F3 derby away to Newcastle Jets.

Mariners coach Paul Okon wasn't happy with his side's form in their 2-0 defeat to Wellington Phoenix in Canberra on Saturday, and changes are likely for the trip to the Hunter Valley.

Okon's side had little to offer up front against Wellington, managing just two shots on target.

Livewire attacker Buhagiar was given a 20-minute cameo at GIO Stadium and looked to have something extra so Okon will be tempted to use him from the start against Mark Jones' team.

The coach said the performance had been the worst of the season so far, leaving him facing a test at the start of his first campaign in charge. He was particularly unhappy with the way the Mariners played in the first half.

"If it's one from six, you cop it on the chin and you move forward and you try to make sure it doesn't happen," added Okon. "But tonight wasn't the level we expect and it needs to be better next week."

The Mariners threw caution to the wind in the final 20 minutes, sending on 18-year-old Buhagiar in place of veteran Fabio Ferreira.

"I thought Trent when he came on looked very exciting," said Okon. "It's a good thing to have two players of that ability and certainly Trent's speed is a real weapon; moving forward, there's real competition in that position."

Midfielder Mickael Tavares admitted the side had lost sight of their new approach under Okon.

"I don't think we played our game, our style," he said. "Normally we have the possession, we keep the ball but today it was a little bit forgotten."

Central Coast are 15/4 to win their next game against Newcastle, who are 8/11 with the draw 14/5.

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Giroud calm over Arsenal future

Striker Olivier Giroud has played down reports that he may be tempted to leave Arsenal if he does not become a regular starter once again.

The 30-year-old France international has yet to start a Premier League game this season, having been troubled by a toe injury earlier on in the campaign, with Chile international Alexis Sanchez the current first-choice pick of Gunners head coach Arsene Wenger.

However, Giroud, who has been with Arsenal since the summer of 2012, says he is not overly concerned about his position and expects to compete strongly for a starting role in the months ahead, especially as Sanchez sustained a hamstring injury while on international duty.

He told French TV show Telefoot: "At this time the coach has opted for the solution of Sanchez leading the attack, partly because of my injury, so I now hope to get more game time of course.

"The coach makes his own choices, but I am counting on myself to come back strong and I will work hard to do so. I have no doubts over my future.

"As with each year, there is competition for places at the big clubs. There are a lot of attackers with different styles of play.

"We have different profiles and can be used according to the team we are up against, but we can also be played together."

Giroud got off the mark in the Premier League late last month, netting a brace in a comprehensive 4-1 victory at lowly Sunderland.

Next up for the Gunners is an Old Trafford showdown with Manchester United on Saturday, with the visitors 23/10 to secure a draw, 10/1 to claim a 1-0 victory and 11/4 to keep a clean sheet.

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Kane misses out on Spain clash

Striker Harry Kane has been allowed to return to his club and will not feature for England in their friendly with Spain at Wembley on Tuesday evening.

The 23-year-old has only recently returned to action with Tottenham Hotspur after more than six weeks on the sidelines with an ankle injury.

And interim England head coach Gareth Southgate feels that Kane will benefit more from further rehabilitation work with Spurs than he will by remaining with the national team.

He told reporters: "The (training) sessions we're going to do aren't what Harry needs at this time.

"It was never really my intention to start him in a game and I think it's important that he gets a different training programme to what we're going to follow over the next couple of days."

With Kane absent, Southgate still has Daniel Sturridge, Jamie Vardy, Marcus Rashford, Wayne Rooney and Theo Walcott as striking options for the game on Tuesday.

Sturridge, who scored the opener in the 3-0 win over Scotland, can be backed at 9/4 to score at any time, with Rooney priced at 3/1 and Rashford available at 11/4.

Meanwhile, Southgate is hoping that a decision on his future will be made within the next month, with his initial four-game tenure about to come to an end.

The Under-21s boss added: "It will be important for me to know what I'm doing after the middle of November.

"We've got a European Under-21 Championship to prepare for and the seniors have got their next round of qualifiers (in March). Of course everybody is going to want to know, I guess, by the end of November, middle of December."

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