Advertisement

Spanish lesson will be good for Eoin Toal and Co, says Northern Ireland boss

Eoin Toal has played 57 times this season for club and country <i>(Image: PA)</i>
Eoin Toal has played 57 times this season for club and country (Image: PA)

EOIN Toal was given an international schooling by Spain – but will benefit in the long run, says Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill.

The Wanderers centre-back was taken off at half time in Mallorca on Saturday evening with his outclassed team 4-0 down thanks to two goals from Barcelona star Pedri and one apiece for Atletico Madrid’s Alvaro Morata and Paris St Germain’s Fabian Ruiz.

The second half proved a more even affair as the Spanish side eased down ahead of next week’s European Championships and the scoreline ended 5-1, but for Toal and several other team-mates operating outside the Premier League, the learning curve had been a steep one.

"For a lot of our players, they don't play their club football at that level," O’Neill said.

"The positive for us is that it shows our players, this is the level that you've got to get to if you're going to play top international football. Spain are a tier one team that will go to Germany with ambitions and belief that they can win the tournament, and rightly so.

"Our ambition is to qualify for a tournament. There are two levels of international football there. The positive for us is that we've had that exposure.

"Nobody likes to be beaten 5-1 but the players will learn from this experience."

Toal’s half-time substitution is thought to have been tactical and he is due to feature again tomorrow night when Northern Ireland take on Andorra in Murcia.

The first half appearance was Toal’s 57th of a season which began with hm recovering from an ankle injury which had flared up on the same summer camp 12 months ago.

Dion Charles also pulled out of the squad at the back end of last week after aggravating a knee injury and is now considered a major doubt for the start of pre-season.

O’Neill defended the decision to organise a friendly against top-tier opponents as his side shape up for the Nations League qualifiers, which start in September.

"When this game was offered to us, I felt it was the right opportunity,” he said.

"It would have been easier to play a nation that was more at our level, but I think in the Nations League we'll play teams at our level and this was a chance to show our players the highest level.

"We have to take that given we've the World Cup 2026 [qualification] starting in March. We need to play against as many good teams as possible.

"I've no regrets about taking the game. We'll deal with the result, I've been beaten before."

Wanderers also have Gethin Jones on international duty on Tuesday, as Australia take on Palestine in their final World Cup Second Round group game in Perth.

The defender, who was an unused substitute in last week’s 2-0 win against Bangladesh, is expected to win his fourth international cap as part of a much-changed line-up.

Not featuring on Friday could have been a blessing in disguise for Jones, with Socceroos boss Graham Arnold blasting the playing surface after a scrappy game.

"The pitch? Terrible. It's unacceptable," Arnold said. "Because we talk about player welfare. And you're putting players on a field that players can get injured.

"And it's no shock to me that five or six players from Bangladesh went down with cramping, having cramps in calf muscles and hamstrings because that field is not good. I'm being honest … the field was dangerous.

"I'm not passing responsibility. That was a field that we only won 2-0, we had the chances to score five, six, seven.

"But some of the tackles, potential injuries were stressing me out."