Published Wednesday, 20 March 2013
Manager Michael O'Neill with the NI squad during training. (© Pacemaker)
His side will face Russia at Windsor Park on Friday, and the visitors are on top form after winning four out of four games in the qualification group.
Meanwhile, O'Neill has led his side into eight games without a win and he says Friday's game will be a huge test for his players.
"It's one where we have everything to gain," he said, "and these are the games, where over history Northern Ireland we have managed to properly upset the odds and we will we looking to do the same thing Friday night.
"The most important thing for us is the competitive games and there has been a lot of positives in that.
"We have reviewed that and did a lot of video work and showed the players in their performance," O'Neill commented.
Back on the squad is Burnley striker Martin Paterson, who had taken a break to regain full fitness,.
He joins West Bromich Albion player Chris Brunt, who is hoping for a win in his home city.
The 28-year-old said kicking off their double header in a positive fashion could set a precedence for NI.
"We have been improving under Michael and we have been difficult to beat but now it's about getting that first win to kick-start things.
"Results (at Windsor Park) have been frustrating, of course, because we could be sitting with four extra points.
"We got a point we probably didn't expect to have when we drew in Portugal, so it's swings and roundabouts, but we'd rather be sitting here with two wins from the home games. Looking back on it, that's definitely what we should have," he explained.
Northern Ireland have a 24-man squad available for the Russia match, with suspended duo Kyle Lafferty and Chris Baird linking up with the group ahead of the Israel fixture.
Of the initial squad, only Derby forward Jamie Ward was unable to travel and was replaced by Aberdeen's Josh Magennis.
The first couple of training sessions have not led to any additional withdrawals, but Will Grigg and Andy Little did sit out today's workout.
Walsall forward Grigg - who is eyeing Lafferty's role leading the line - has a hamstring niggle, while Rangers man Little is struggling with his knee.
© UTV News