Northern Ireland's historic challenge

  • Germany unbeaten away from home in World Cup qualifying games

  • Die Nationalmannschaft are 46 matches without defeat

  • We have the standout numbers from their extraordinary run

Anyone who believes Northern Ireland might be able to pip Germany to top spot in their qualifying group and secure an automatic ticket to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ is surely in a very small minority.

That task is made all the more difficult given that Michael O'Neill's side would need to win against Germany at Windsor Park on Thursday to do so - a victory that would be a historic first.

There is one slight snag, however. No home side has managed to beat Germany for several decades of World Cup qualifying.

"We're all really looking forward to the game in Belfast," said Germany coach Joachim Low, whose charges are yet to drop a single point on the road to Russia 2018. "There'll be a special atmosphere there and the Northern Irish fans will cheer on their side loudly over the 90 minutes. We've had a very good qualifying campaign so far, and we want to keep it that way. We're sticking to our objective of going for wins in all ten games. We want to see this qualifying campaign through to the end."

Germany's astonishing record began on 11 March 1934 with a 9-1 triumph in Luxembourg in a qualifier for Italy 1934. Incidentally, one match was enough to book a ticket to the tournament at the time. Their streak has continued to the present day and was most recently maintained with a 2-1 success away to Czech Republic on 1 September 2017. takes a closer look at some of the standout numbers from Germany's undefeated run.

2 The total number of defeats Germany have suffered in World Cup qualifying - and both have occurred in Germany. In 1985 they lost 1-0 to Portugal in Stuttgart, although Die Mannschaft's place at Mexico 1986 was already assured by then. That was not the case in the legendary 5-1 reverse to England in Munich in 2001, even if Rudi Voller's side reached the World Cup Final at Korea/Japan a year later.

3 Not even a trio of penalties were enough for Albania to get the better of Germany on 2 April 1997. Although it was an away fixture for Germany it was not a home game for Albania, with political circumstances at the time forcing the match to be played in Granada, Spain. Albania scored two of their spot-kicks but Andreas Kopke saved the other, while Ulf Kirsten gave the reigning European champions a 3-2 victory just 21 minutes after coming on as a substitute.

6 On 20 August 1997 Oliver Bierhoff scored a six-minute hat-trick to prevent Northern Ireland from ending Germany's run. Bierhoff, now general manager of the national team, was brought on as a substitute for Kirsten in the 70th minute with his side 1-0 down. He hit the net for the first time three minutes later and by the 79th minute he had fired Germany to what would be an eventual 3-1 win.

8 The number of minutes (plus stoppage time) left on the clock for Finland to record a home win over Germany in 2008. They went ahead three times but the visitors equalised on each occasion through Miroslav Klose, his final strike coming in the 82nd minute to make it 3-3. Seven years earlier, Finland had been 2-0 up with 21 minutes to go, only to be pegged back to a 2-2 draw come the final whistle.

12 The number of consecutive away wins German's World Cup qualifying run currently stands at: Czech Republic (2-1), Azerbaijan (4-1), San Marino (8-0), Norway (3-0), Sweden (5-3), Faroe Islands (3-0), Kazakhstan (3-0), Republic of Ireland (6-1), Austria (2-1), Russia (1-0), Azerbaijan (2-0) and Wales (2-0). Prior to that, Finland were the last team to pick up a point at home to Germany in the aforementioned 3-3 draw in Helsinki in 2008.

46 The number of away matches the four-time world champions have played in European zone World Cup qualifying without losing.

83 The number of years Germany's unbeaten run away from home in World Cup qualifying has continued.

134 for, 36 against is Germany's impressive goal difference in World Cup qualifying away games.