Chris Brunt has returned to the Northern Ireland squad after an injury layoff to give the national team a huge boost in the World Cup 2018 qualification. Brunt is expected to feature in the game against Azerbaijan.
The West Brom defender has not been amongst the first team squad since March after suffering a major knee injury. As a result, he missed the Euro 2016 tournament which would rank as one of his biggest disappointments of his career. Brunt has been a major player for Ireland since 2004 and he has made 54 appearances to date.
At 31 years of age, the Euro 2016 was probably his greatest chance of featuring at a major international tournament before the end of his career. Missing out on this tournament seems to have given Brunt a lot of motivation to appear at the World Cup 2018. After having taken four points from the opening three matches, Ireland are sitting pretty in their group.
Azerbaijan remain as the surprise package of group C so far as they are currently second in the table – three points ahead of Northern Ireland. As a result, Ireland will have to get a win at all costs in the upcoming game in order to prevent the underdogs from opening up an advantage.
“In the last few weeks Chris has made great strides by coming off the bench in his first match and starting at the weekend.He’s a Premier League player, he’s always going to be in our squad. He was a big loss for us at the finals so it is great to have him back in,” said manager Michael O’Neill about the return of Brunt. He also stated the importance of getting three points against Azerbaijan if Ireland are to think about World Cup 2018 qualification going forward.