Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill admits he'd love to have Paddy McNair back in time for their World Cup play-off clash - but says the chances are slim.
Sunderland midfielder McNair has been out for almost a year after injuring his cruciate knee ligaments against Hull in November.
The 23-year-old had ACL reconstruction, but then suffered a setback in the summer.
McNair is pencilled in for his comeback tomorrow night against Hertha Berlin when Sunderland's Under-23s start their Premier League Cup bid at the Stadium of Light.
But with the first leg of the World Cup play-offs scheduled for November 9-11, and the second legs played November 12-14, they are likely to come too soon for McNair even if his return goes smoothly.
O'Neill's side booked their play-off spot despite a 1-0 defeat against Norway last night, and O'Neil said: "This team is punching above its weight massively, it has done for a considerable amount of time.
"It would be nice to have one or two of the players we're missing back. We hopefully will have Jamie Ward back for the play-off
"It's unlikely that we'll have McNair or (Craig) Cathcart back.
"The squad has been stretched massively in this campaign so deserves massive credit, we haven't rotated the team that much."
Northern Ireland will find out who thy play in the play-off when the draw is made on Tuesday, October 17 in Zurich. They are trying to reach their first World Cup since 1986.
McNair played in their Euro 2016 campaign in France before joining Sunderland from Manchester United later that summer. He has 12 international caps.