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The Burnley squad will be gathering again at Gawthorpe this week in preparation for our Premier League game against Crystal Palace on Sunday. For some of them it will be a return to the club after being away on international duty.

Since we last played, at Wembley against Spurs, the club can boast two more players who have represented their countries at full international level whilst with the club and both return to Burnley having also captained their countries.

Chris Wood was the New Zealand captain when he scored his hat trick against the Solomon Islands and, last night, Jon Walters led out the Republic of Ireland on what was a disappointing night for them.

Wood’s hat trick came in a 6-1 win after which he was allowed to return home, therefore missing the second leg of the Oceania play-off. Without Wood, New Zealand drew 2-2 in that second leg. They were 2-0 up after 20 minutes but conceded a penalty in each half. The 8-3 aggregate win has seen them qualify for an intercontinental play-off against the country who finish fifth in the South American group. It will be next month before they learn who their opponents will be but it is very likely to be one of Peru, Argentina or Chile.

For the Republic of Ireland players, it has been a disappointing international week. Walters, Stephen Ward and Robbie Brady played in both games that brought them just one point. They drew 1-1 in Georgia, with our former loan player Shane Duffy giving them an early lead, but last night were beaten 1-0 by group leaders Serbia at the Aviva Stadium.

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Despite the disappointing result, there was praise for Walters, and his forward partner Shane Long, from Serbia and former Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic. After the game he said: “I know how Premier League football works, but this was the toughest I have ever played against.

“It was a duel all around the pitch, definitely the toughest game we have played so far in the group. I am very proud we showed the courage to come out with the three points. We are naturally physical and we have our talents and some of those don’t compare with the Irish players and the way they play, especially in the way they attack, but we accept this as natural. Both Shane Long and Jon Walters were a nightmare, an absolute handful to mark. I had to stay completely focused on both of them at all times.”

The results mean that Ireland, who were without Jeff Hendrick to injury, and had Kevin Long on the bench, have lost the key second place in the group to Wales who had an outstanding week, beating Austria at home and then winning in Moldova. Sam Vokes won another two caps in these games, starting the first game and coming on as a substitute in the second last night.

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I think we all remember Iceland knocking England out of the Euros last year and they are now pushing hard to win a place in the World Cup finals with our keen interest coming via Johann Berg Gudmundsson.

In the first of their two games they were surprisingly beaten 1-0 in Finland, but they followed that up last night with a 2-0 home win against Ukraine. Everton’s Gylfi Sigurdsson scored both goals but Gudmundsson played a big part in both and had an excellent game for his country.

Our two other players on international duty both had watching briefs for both games. Tom Heaton was on the bench to see England struggle in Malta before facing Slovakia at Wembley. In the end, it was satisfactory for England who won both games and now look odds on to qualify.

Last, but certainly not least as far as our full internationals are concerned, is Steven Defour. Like Heaton he was an unused substitute for both of Belgium’s games. They took their goals total to 35 from eight games with a 9-0 home win against Gibraltar followed by a 2-1 victory in Greece and in doing so became the first European country to book their place in the finals.

Finally, and a special mention for our young goalkeeper Conor Mitchell who is currently on loan at Chester. He’s made two appearances for Northern Ireland under-21s in the last week. He kept a clean sheet in the first of them against but was crucially beaten once in the second game when they went down to a 1-0 defeat against Slovakia.

“Conor Mitchell shines for Northern Ireland” – that was the match report headline on the Northern Ireland FA website following their narrow defeat. It went on to report how Conor had made a string of fine saves to keep them in the game in which he was clearly their best player.

Conor will be back with Chester this weekend for their home game against Ebbsfleet while Sean Dyche will welcome back the other ten as we prepare for Palace.

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