Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill has 'no regrets' taking Spain game

Photo shows Northern Ireland’s Shea Charles after his side conceded against Spain
-Credit: (Image: William Cherry/Presseye)

Michael O’Neill insists he has "no regrets" about exposing his young players to the might of Spain despite crashing to a 5-1 defeat in Majorca.

Northern Ireland took a surprise lead through Dan Ballard after just 70 seconds, but the early shock only ignited the hosts into action.

Pedri scored twice with Alvaro Morata and Fabian Ruiz also finding the net to make it 4-1 at half-time, and substitute Mikel Oyarzabal added a fifth in the second half.

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It stalls Northern Ireland's recent progress, which included wins against Denmark and Scotland and a 1-1 draw in Romania. But for O'Neill, it shows his players what to expect when the World Cup qualifiers come around next March.

O'Neill said: “I felt it was the right opportunity. It would have been easier possibly to play a nation more at our level but in the Nations League we’re going to play teams at our level, this was an opportunity to show our players the highest level.

Pedri, centre, celebrates scoring Spain’s third goal against Northern Ireland
Pedri, centre, celebrates scoring Spain’s third goal against Northern Ireland

Pedri led the way as Spain proved far too strong for Northern Ireland (Francisco Ubilla/AP)

“We have to take that in mind with the World Cup (qualifiers) starting in March, we need to play against as many good teams as possible so I’ve no regrets about taking the game. We will deal with the result. I’ve been beaten before.”

Spain have been fine tuning their preparations for the Euro finals which kick-off next weekend, while for many Northern Ireland players it was the first action since their domestic seasons ended last month.

It was also a youthful squad at O'Neill's disposal, with many plying their trade in the lower divisions in England and Scotland.

“We’re a very young side and you could see from the substitutions we got younger as the game went on,” O’Neill said.

“For a lot of our players, they don’t play club football at that level so they get exposure in a game like this. The positive is it shows our players this is the level they have to get to to play top international football.”

He added: “We’ve defended deep against Denmark, against Scotland and against Romania and we’ve defended well, we only conceded one goal (across the three games), but we faced a higher level of player here and that’s something we have to bear in mind,” he said.

“In the second half with the back four we defended better than we did with the back three or back five but we have to trust it, we can’t just rip it up and do something else. We have to believe in this system going forwards.”

O'Neill hopes his players can bounce back against Andorra on Tuesday night, as they continue their own preparations for a new UEFA Nations League campaign which begins in September.

“The dressing room is quiet but I don’t think it will damage morale,” O’Neill said. “We wouldn’t come here with the expectation of winning the game, we came with the expectation to make it difficult and see if we could possibly hurt Spain.

“Ultimately we saw we still have a lot of development as a team to get to that point.”

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