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Tuesday 11 Jun 2024
Players determined to bounce back against Andorra

There’s a real sense of togetherness in the Northern Ireland senior men’s squad as they prepare to take on Andorra in the second of two friendlies on Spanish soil this month.

Bonds that were already strong have strengthened further thanks to an extended training camp in a sports complex near Murcia.

The itinerary for the camp included friendly games against teams from different ends of the international football spectrum.

First up, on Saturday, was an international challenge match against Spain, one of the world’s best teams and a team determined to make their mark in Germany at UEFA Euro 2024, which kicks off this weekend.

Game two is against Andorra, who are ranked in 164th place in the world compared to their Spanish neighbours in eighth place, and that match takes place later today at Estadio Nueva Condomina in Murcia.  

In media interviews yesterday various Northern Ireland players spoke of how the 5-1 defeat to Spain in Mallorca had shown them the levels that are required to be a tier one team on the global stage.

They insisted they had learned lessons from the game in the Balearic Islands and were not too disheartened at suffering such a defeat.

And they were also keen to stress that the aim is to bounce back against Andorra, to bring a great training camp to a positive conclusion.

Northern Ireland, who are currently ranked 73rd in the world, will be without captain Jonny Evans for the game.

The experienced defender returned home following the friendly against Spain as Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill felt it was unrealistic, given his injury niggles during the season, to expect Evans to play another match after he was on the pitch for 90-plus minutes in what was an energy-sapping encounter in Palma.

The armband has been passed to fellow defender Daniel Ballard (pictured) for today’s game.

Ballard has been handed it before during matches, however this will be the first time he will assume the responsibility from the start of a game.

And he said he will be “extremely proud” and “very excited” when he leads the team out to face the Andorrans.

Ballard, who scored Northern Ireland’s goal against the Spanish, insisted the friendly against Spain had provided an opportunity to play against one of the world’s top teams.

He said: “For us to be able to play against them, to see what they do, to see how they move, how they move the ball, the quality they have, it was great for our team to watch and to learn from. It’s only going to make us better.

“Of course, it doesn’t feel nice at the time losing but I think it’s going to do us the world of good moving forward.”

He expects Northern Ireland to have a lot more possession against Andorra than they did against Spain.

He said: “The onus will be on us to go and win the game, to go and score goals. It will be good. We will get to see a lot more of our attacking players. It’s up to us to set the tempo and go and win the game.”

Ballard also revealed he has thoroughly enjoyed the training camp in Spain.

“It has been brilliant. As a group of lads we really know each other well now. There are great relationships in the team and it’s now about building on this,” he pointed out.

Andorra, who lost 5-0 against Spain in a friendly last week, rely on two very experienced midfielders to drive them forward. Marc Vales (34) has 93 caps and five international goals under his belt, while Marco Vieira, aged 39, has 128 caps and two goals.

Marc Vales is with third tier Spanish side Europa, while Vieira (39) plies his trade in the lower leagues in Portugal with Marco.

Up and coming younger players in the squad include 23-year-old Eric Vales, also a midfielder, who plays for Grindavik in Iceland’s second league.

Forward Ricard Fernandez (25) is on the books of Slovenian second tier side Krka and fellow striker Albert Rosas plays for Real Betis B in Spain, while keeper Iker Alvaraz (22) is with Villareal B in Spain.

Where to watch the game

The game against Andorra kicks off at 19.45 BST. It is being shown live - and free of charge - by Premier Sports on YouTube from 19.35 via the link below.