Northern Ireland’s end-of-season tour of Central America concludes with a friendly against Costa Rica on Sunday.
Having drawn 0-0 with Panama in humid conditions on Tuesday, Michael O’Neill’s side now meet another team bound for the World Cup in Russia later this month.
Here FP looks at some of the talking points.
Will Jonny Evans be deployed in midfield again?
Blessed with their greatest depth in the centre-back region, Northern Ireland boss O’Neill deployed his best defender in central midfield in Panama and could repeat the trick in San Jose on Sunday given the lack of other options for that position in his squad. Evans, who is captain for the tour, has the ball-retention skills and intelligence to play there, though it may not be a long-term answer for the nation once Steven Davis, Oliver Norwood and George Saville are all available again.
Will this be Aaron Hughes’ last hurrah?
While there is an influx of youngsters in O’Neill’s touring party, seasoned veterans Hughes and Gareth McAuley, both 38, are also on board. The latter has stated his ambition to play on somewhere next year, though Hughes is still undecided if he will carry on. The defender is due to win his 112th cap on Sunday, only seven shy of Pat Jennings’ Northern Ireland record, and he has shown no signs of slowing down despite his age. Hughes is now in a team where one player – Shayne Lavery – was born after he made his international debut, yet the Green and White Army will be keeping their fingers crossed that this is not goodbye from one of their finest ever players.
Can Paddy McNair prove his Premier League credentials?
The Northern Ireland player seemingly attracting the most attention in the early stages of the summer transfer window is Sunderland midfielder McNair. Still just 23, McNair was playing in the Premier League two years ago and his international boss is among those who thinks he is worthy of that level. Following their relegation to League One Sunderland have reportedly rejected bids from Brighton for McNair and Sunday’s game represents another opportunity for the central midfielder to impress suitors and possibly land a big move in the coming days or weeks.
Will Gavin Whyte become the latest Northern Ireland debutant?
Five players travelled to Panama without a first international cap and three of them – Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Lavery and Jordan Thompson – received senior honours in the Estadio Rommel Fernandez. Young Celtic goalkeeper Conor Hazard and Crusaders midfielder Gavin Whyte are the other two waiting for a senior bow, and an appearance for the latter may aid his quest to move into full-time football across the water. There is plenty of interest back home in Whyte given he plays his club football in Northern Ireland, with even former two-weight world champion boxer Carl Frampton monitoring his progress.
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