Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill stressed his team will be a different proposition in the Nations League from the one beaten 3-0 by Costa Rica in San Jose on Sunday.
O’Neill’s side failed to pick up a victory or score a goal during their 10-day tour of Central America, which also included a 0-0 draw with Panama, but the Northern Irish manager was far from downbeat.
Four players were given their international debuts across the two games and a number of other inexperienced figures earned caps, with the likes of captain Steven Davis, midfielders Oliver Norwood and George Saville, and strikers Kyle Lafferty and Conor Washington all not having made the trip.
O’Neill will hope all of those are available to him for the Nations League fixtures with Bosnia-Herzegovina and Austria, which is why he is not putting too much stock into the result against Costa Rica.
“The alternative is not to do something like this and play a game at home against low opposition,” O’Neill said.
“This is a new experience, a good experience for me as a coach, a good experience for the players.
“This doesn’t damage us in any way. Come September we’ll be ready to play and we look forward to the Nations League.
“It would have been nice to come out here and get two positive results. Today has just shown maybe it was a game too much.
“We were heavily reliant on our older boys and it’s a big ask. There’s potential there but we can’t expect these young lads to come in and play international football. Most of them aren’t even playing club football.
“The first hurdle for these players is to get regular club football, and at as high a level as possible. The next step is international football.
“Davis, Norwood, Saville, Lafferty, Washington, (Jamie) Ward…there’s a lot of players to come back into the squad. I’ve enjoyed it and I’m not going to be too despondent about today’s result.”
The biggest disappointment for O’Neill was likely his team’s lack of attacking threat in the two fixtures.
Northern Ireland have now failed to score in five of their last six games – having not netted in three of their four at Euro 2016 – and O’Neill conceded it is a concern.
“We do not have attacking players that play at the highest level of the game – in the Premier League, or a top five league in Europe,” he added.
“When you’re coming up against this level of players, that’s often what you need. It was a little bit like what blighted us in France.
“We can make ourselves extremely difficult to beat, extremely well organised, but you have to try and win the game from that platform.
“It was good to see the players because you have to gauge them. We didn’t do enough in the two games.
“We’re trying to play with two strikers. We learned from that, but not in a positive way, I don’t think.”
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