Talking points ahead of Northern Ireland’s friendly against Spain

Northern Ireland will take on Euro 2024-bound Spain in a friendly at the Son Moix stadium in Mallorca on Saturday night.

Here the PA news agency looks at the key talking points ahead of the fixture.

Happy memories

Soccer – Northern Ireland v Spain – Windsor Park – Belfast
David Healy (right) scored a hat-trick against Spain in a European qualifier in 2006 (Paul Faith/PA)

Friday’s match may be a friendly, but any game against Spain brings back memories of two of the greatest moments in Northern Ireland’s sporting history. When Billy Bingham’s side secured a 1-0 win over hosts Spain at the 1982 World Cup – with Gerry Armstrong scoring the winner and Northern Ireland holding out despite Mal Donaghy’s red card with half an hour to go – they caused a huge shock in world football. Twenty-four years later, they ran out winners again as David Healy scored an outstanding hat-trick to fire Lawrie Sanchez’s side to a 3-2 European Championship qualifying win at Windsor Park. The odds are firmly against a repeat in Palma, but you never know.

A huge test

Northern Ireland Training and Press Conference – Hampden Park – Monday 25th March
Michael O’Neill’s side have built momentum with recent results (Jane Barlow/PA)

Michael O’Neill’s young side built some significant momentum in March with a draw away to Romania before a 1-0 win over Scotland at Hampden Park – two positive results against Euro 2024-bound sides to follow up the victory over Denmark in the final qualifier in November. But facing a powerful Spain side going through their final preparations for the Euros will be a very different proposition. O’Neill has repeatedly said he wants his side to get better when they do not have the ball – something they are likely to get plenty of practice at in this fixture.

Familiar faces and young blood

Rodri file photo
Manchester City’s Rodri is among the many stars in Spain’s side (Martin Rickett/PA)

There are few players in the Spain side that need much of an introduction. Rodri has been the anchor of the Manchester City sides that have won the last four Premier League titles, Dani Carvajal is still celebrating Real Madrid’s latest Champions League success, and former Arsenal and City star Jesus Navas is still going at the age of 38. But coach Luis de la Fuente’s squad also includes some fresh talent, notably in the form of Barcelona’s 16-year-old Lamine Yamal. who could give Northern Ireland something different to think about.

Corry’s return

While the focus has largely flipped to the exciting young players in O’Neill’s squad, experience will be critical against Spain and the return of Corry Evans will be welcome to the manager. It remains to be seen what sort of role the 33-year-old can play, having only made three appearances at the tail end of the season following a serious knee injury which has meant he has earned only one cap in the last two years. But, alongside brother Jonny, Corry seems certain to have an important job to do for at least some of the night in midfield.

Soaking up the sun

Northern Ireland flew in to Palma on Thursday, but came here from their warm weather training camp in Murcia – the location for Tuesday’s match against Andorra. The extended summer break is the sort of opportunity O’Neill craves to spend real time with his players, enabling them to get into details on the way he wants them to play. As he moulds a new-look team, these two weeks could prove invaluable as attention turns to the Nations League fixtures to come and next year’s World Cup qualifiers.