NORTHERN Ireland's hopes of reaching the World Cup finals for the first time since 1986 suffered a setback when star striker Kyle Lafferty was ruled out of today's crucial qualifier against Slovakia.
The Rangers forward suffered a knee injury after scoring in the 1-1 draw in Poland at the weekend and manager Nigel Worthington has decided not to risk him in a match where victory would lift Northern Ireland above Slovakia to the top of group three.
Lafferty, 21, had indicated on Monday that he might be ready to play but Worthington said: "We have to be fair to Kyle. He comes first and we have to think of the long-term future of Northern Ireland and Rangers Football Club."
Worthington had already drafted uncapped 18-year-old Billy Kee into his squad as cover. - Sapa-AFP