Panama vs Northern Ireland - O’Neill: Northern Ireland have moved on from heartbreak

Posted Tuesday, May 29, 2018 by PA

Panama vs Northern Ireland - O’Neill: Northern Ireland have moved on from heartbreak

Michael O’Neill is confident Northern Ireland have avoided a World Cup hangover ahead of his team attending two other nations’ send-off parties in Central America.

Panama and Costa Rica will each host the Northern Irish this week in their final home games before they participate in this summer’s tournament in Russia.

Were it not for referee Ovidiu Hategan awarding Switzerland a penalty at Windsor Park last November – a decision he later conceded was a mistake – O’Neill’s side might be back in Belfast now preparing for their own farewell soiree.

Thoughts of that play-off loss might re-emerge during Panama and Costa Rica’s farewell celebrations, and when the Swiss face Brazil in their opening World Cup group game next month, yet O’Neill believes his players are not living in the past.

“There’s the pain of going out the way we did, but I tend not to dwell on it,” the Northern Ireland manager said.

“We have to move on and I think we’ve done that, the players have done that.

“It probably will not be as easy a World Cup to watch. I’ve had two goes at a World Cup as a manager and came very close on this occasion – the first occasion we were not close at all in a very difficult group.

“The World Cup’s so difficult to qualify for. We may look back in 20 years’ time and think that was such a good opportunity for us.

“At this minute in time we’re looking to the next tournament and then the World Cup beyond. Those are the immediate tournaments that we believe we’ve got the capability to qualify for.

“The sense that I get from the mood in the camp for (the) South Korea (game in March) was very, very good. The mood in the camp’s been good for this.

“Once the World Cup’s done and out of the way, you’re starting on a level playing field and looking at the Nations League and moving on to Euro 2020.”

Panama will use Tuesday’s friendly as a yardstick for how ready they are to face England at the World Cup, striker Gabriel Torres has said.

World Cup fever has hit the Central American country ahead of their first ever participation at the premier global tournament, and over 13,000 supporters are expected at the Estadio Rommel Fernandez to attend their farewell game.

Los Canaleros will then head to Europe, and eventually Russia, where Belgium, Gareth Southgate’s England and Tunisia will be their group opponents.

That meeting with the Three Lions has led to Panama arranging friendlies with two of the other home nations as World Cup tune-ups, and after drawing with Wales in November, they are hoping O’Neill’s team will pose a British-style challenge in Panama City.

“They are a complicated rival, a typical European team, English bred,” said Torres, who plays for Chilean side Huachipato.

“It’s going to be a team we are going to use to measure ourselves to know how we can better apply the work we’ve been doing.

“We’ve worked a lot on the physical part. We are going to be working more on tactics once we get to Europe.

“We’re going to face this game very seriously, it will be in front of our people. People want to see a show and hopefully we can deliver that.”

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