Qualification history
Northern Ireland’s first attempt to qualify for the FIFA World Cup™ was for the 1950 tournament in Brazil but it would not be until eight years later that they reached the finals. After impressing at their inaugural participation, it would be 24 years before the Irish again graced the biggest international stage. Consecutive qualifications for the 1982 and 1986 editions raised hopes at home but they have failed to reach a FIFA World Cup since then, with a 1-0 qualifier victory over rivals England in 2005 a rare high. They finished a respectable fourth in a tough qualifying group for South Africa 2010.

FIFA World Cup finals history
Northern Ireland have played in three FIFA World Cups - 1958, 1982 and 1986. In 1958 the Irish progressed from a tough group containing West Germany, Argentina and Czechoslovakia, but were heavily beaten 4-0 by France in the quarter-finals. At their second attempt in Spain, they beat the hosts on the way to reaching the second group stage but were again eliminated by the French. Four years later, Northern Ireland experienced their biggest disappointment at the FIFA World Cup, picking up just a single point as they finished third in a group containing heavyweights Brazil and Spain.

The current crop
Having also failed to reach a European Championship, times have been tough for Northern Ireland in recent years. Inconsistent performances in qualifying competitions have hampered their progress, although they have enjoyed morale-boosting victories against England and world champions Spain. Qualification for UEFA EURO 2012 again proved difficult, with Italy, Serbia and Slovenia offering tough challenges to overcome.

The key players
Rangers‘ Steven Davis has evolved into one of the national team’s key figures in midfield, alongside winger Chris Brunt, while captain Aaron Hughes is the experienced defender youngsters can learn from. Also in defence, Jonny Evans and Craig Cathcart – who both came through Manchester United’s famed youth academy - could be a partnership for the future.

Coach: Michael O'Neill
Best performance in a FIFA competition: FIFA World Cup Sweden 1958 (Quarter-finals)
Former stars: George Best, Gerry Armstrong, Norman Whiteside