Belfast Telegraph

Michael O'Neill hails tour as spirited success

By Rory Dollard

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill declared his side's South American tour a big success despite slipping to a second defeat as Chile proved too strong.

On paper, last week's 1-0 loss in Uruguay and yesterday morning's 2-0 reverse in Valparaiso are hardly cause for celebration, but with both opponents fine-tuning ahead of the World Cup, losses were always considered likely.

O'Neill was primarily focused on the chance to work with his side for an extended period and building team spirit.

To see an inexperienced side maintain parity with more illustrious rivals for 62 minutes and 80 minutes respectively, was an unexpected bonus.

"I've got a huge amount more than I anticipated from the trip," O'Neill said after watching late goals from Eduardo Vargas and Mauricio Pinilla.

"I'd have to say, in all honesty, it's been the best 10 days I've had in the job and I've just told the players that.

"They've been a joy to work with in terms of their application, even the lads who didn't get the chance. It's been a really positive atmosphere.

"Steven Davis and Aaron Hughes have both said it's as good a trip as they've been on and given they've got 150 caps between them that is testament to it.

"The bonding that has gone on has been really good, with the younger players bringing that freshness and the older players responding to that."

O'Neill believes Chile's imminent appearance in Brazil meant the cards were stacked against his side from the offset, but he felt hard done by an opening goal that appeared marginally offside.

"In the first half we were excellent but in the second half it was a case of fatigue," he said.

"They were also able to bring real quality on in terms of Alexis Sanchez, Eduardo Vargas and Arturo Vidal.

"But it's very difficult when you work as hard as we worked to lose a goal of that nature. It shouldn't have counted and ultimately it was the turning factor."

Davis was a contender for man-of-the-match honours as he turned in an all-energy performance in the middle of the park.

"Steven has been absolutely phenomenal. He could play for either Uruguay or Chile easily," said O'Neill. "What he's shown is that against world-class players, he does not look out of place."

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