Northern Ireland players remain defiant after the 1-0 defeat to Chile — blasting claims they would be “lambs to the slaughter”.
The two-match summer tour to the Americas attracted heavy criticism and many fans feared an avalanche of goals against Nigel Worthington’s side.
However, only three goals were conceded against Turkey and Chile and the players can return home bursting with pride after going toe to toe with talented opponents.
Crusaders skipper Colin Coates, who appeared as a left-back in both matches, was thrilled with the way the team stood up to the tough tests.
“I think people thought we were lambs to the slaughter when we came out here and I think we’ve proved them wrong and we’ve managed to do alright,” Coates said.
“Obviously you are disappointed whenever you concede and obviously conceding from a set piece probably was not what we were looking for but these things happen in football and the team picked their head up after that and we were able to keep them out.
“It was hard as they had so much possession of the ball, we had to work hard when we didn’t have the ball and when we did have it we had to work hard to keep it, you expect it when you come to these places.
“It was always going to be tough for us but I think 1-0 is a respectable score for the team considering there’s so much inexperience in the team, a lot of young guys.”
Worthington made full use of his substitutes at half-time with keeper Alan Blayney being replaced by Michael McGovern.
Corry Evans, Michael Bryan and Robert Garrett were subbed for Kevin Braniff, Rory McArdle and James Lawrie.
“Even with the changes we were able to come on and keep the shape and our discipline against a very, very good team,” Coates said.
Skipper Stephen Craigan was a calming influence on the younger players who would have felt some nervous tension.
“There have been a lot of negative things said about the tour,” Craigan said. “But it hasn’t come from us, it hasn’t come from the players, it hasn’t come from the management and staff, we’ve done really well.
“I think 1-0 is not bad. I’m sure there are not many teams that come all the way to Chile and lose only 1-0 so I think we’re reasonably pleased.
“I think it went the way we expected, they started very well, we’ve had a few days travelling and that affected us early on.
“We were disappointed to concede from a corner kick because yes they had a few chances from open play but really it just shows the difference between winning matches and losing matches.
“It’s strange, they’re quite small but we’ve conceded from a set piece and we haven’t really taken our chances from set pieces.
“That was probably going to be our main way of scoring against them.”
The players heaped praise on 17-year old Wolves starlet John Gorman who squandered Northern Ireland’s only real chance at goal with only the keeper to beat at the stroke of half-time.
Coates added: “He’s only 17 so in front of goal he maybe had a rush of blood but he played brilliantly again like he did in America and on another day he’d maybe have taken that chance.”