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Alarm bells sounding for Everton

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By ESPN Staff

Tough opener for Northern Ireland

Nigel Worthington's successor as Northern Ireland manager will kick off the 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign with a tough trip to Russia.

The Irish Football Association are currently weighing up candidates to replace Worthington, who stepped down last month after a disappointing Euro 2012 campaign, and thrashed out details of their next qualification programme on Friday.

IFA president Jim Shaw, chief executive Patrick Nelson and head of international administration David Currie were present at a meeting in Luxembourg, where representatives from the six nations in Group F met to discuss the schedule.

Northern Ireland's campaign gets under way with a challenging away clash against second seeds Russia on September 7 next year, a game that will also serve as the new boss' first competitive fixture with the national side.

Four days later the side return to Windsor Park to host Luxembourg - the group's bottom-ranked side at 127 in FIFA's standings.

Next up on October 16 is the toughest match on paper, away to top seeds Portugal, before the 2012 programme concludes with Azerbaijan's visit to Belfast on November 14.

The IFA plan to redevelop Windsor Park in 2013, which could provide the explanation for a rather uneven looking distribution of fixtures thereafter.

March 2013 sees two home matches in quick succession - with Russia arriving on the 22nd and Israel following on the 26th before Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal make the return trip to Northern Ireland on September 6, a fourth home match in succession.

That would then clear the way for stadium work to continue in earnest as the team complete their campaign with three consecutive away games.

First up are Luxembourg on September 10, followed by Azerbaijan on October 11 and Israel on October 15.


Northern Ireland World Cup 2014 qualifying fixtures:

2012

September 7 - Russia v Northern Ireland

September 11 - Northern Ireland v Luxembourg

October 16 - Portugal v Northern Ireland

November 14 - Northern Ireland v Azerbaijan

2013

March 22 - Northern Ireland v Russia

March 26 - Northern Ireland v Israel

September 6 - Northern Ireland v Portugal

September 10 - Luxembourg v Northern Ireland

October 11 - Azerbaijan v Northern Ireland

October 15 - Israel v Northern Ireland

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