Northern Ireland play host to Finland on Sunday evening looking to record what would be a crucial win in their bid to qualify for Euro 2024.
While the home side eased past San Marino earlier this week, Finland went down to Group H favourites Denmark.
As ideal fixtures go for first matches in charge, a trip to San Marino is up there with the most favourable, and Michael O’Neill and Northern Ireland took advantage of that on Thursday night.
Although a 2-0 scoreline was not as wide as some may anticipated, it was all about the performance and the maximum points, as well as giving some of the younger crop some much-needed experience on the international stage.
Each of those boxes were ticked, while Dion Charles finally ending his wait for a goal at this level by netting strikes either side of half time.
With that fixture out of the way, O’Neill and his squad will now focus on tougher tests to come, their next three encounters being Finland, Denmark and Kazakhstan.
The games with the former and the latter are at Windsor Park, yet familiar territory was not a happy hunting ground during 2022 as Northern Ireland won just one of their four fixtures, a 2-1 triumph over Kosovo.
From Finland’s perspective, there was naturally disappointment in losing out to Scandinavian rivals Denmark away from home, yet Markku Kanerva will be taking the positives from the experience.
In the hardest fixture on their schedule, Finland entered the final 10 minutes on level terms, only to succumb to two further goals from Rasmus Hojlund as he completed his hat-trick.
Including games which were played with fringe members in January, Finland have now won just twice in 13 outings, although five of those contests have ended in draws.
The Eagle-owls also ended last year with three away fixtures in Montenegro, North Macedonia and Norway, coming away from that triple-header with one victory and two draws.
While Finland are on a four-game winless streak versus Northern Ireland, those games in question took place between 2006 and 2015.
Northern Ireland Euro Champ Qualifying form:
Northern Ireland form (all competitions):
Finland Euro Champ Qualifying form:
Finland form (all competitions):
We say: Northern Ireland 1-1 Finland
Although we remain in the early stages of the group, this is a potentially-pivotal fixture for these nations. With both teams aware that avoiding defeat is imperative, a low-scoring draw feels like the most likely outcome.