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Northern Ireland to play New Zealand in Belfast friendly

Northern Ireland are to play New Zealand in a friendly this June.

The game at Windsor Park on Friday, June 2 is a chance to give the team a run out for their World Cup qualifier against Azerbaijan eight days later.

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill revealed preparations for the trip to Azerbaijan will include two training camps before the game against the All Whites - followed by an overseas training camp.

He explained: “I wanted a home game following our first two camps and it will come at a good time for us. It’s not too close to the Azerbaijan game and it will help to keep the players sharp.

“The players will need a game at that time as some of their seasons will have finished as early as the end of April. We will use it sensibly and get as many of the squad on the pitch as possible.”

O'Neill believes the All Whites will be no pushovers when they comes to Belfast as they prepare for the Confederations Cup in Russia, which kicks off on June 17.

They face Russia, Portugal and Mexico in the group stages.

O'Neill said the friendly will boost his squad’s “mental and physical preparation” prior to the qualifier in Azerbaijan.

He also said after the game his players will enjoy a short break before beginning final preparations for the June 10 match at the overseas training camp, exact details of which still have to be confirmed.

New Zealand captain Winston Reid, who plays at centre back for West Ham, is one of their best known players along with Chris Wood, the striker currently topping the scoring charts for Leeds United.

Also in their ranks are Marseille defender Bill Tuiloma and Michael Boxall, who plays at the back for SuperSport United in South Africa’s Premier League. A handful of the All Whites players star for Wellington Phoenix, who are based in New Zealand but compete in Australia’s A-League.

And defender Sam Brotherton, who was a member of the New Zealand squad for the U20 World Cup in 2015 and has seven senior caps, has just put pen to paper on a professional deal with Sunderland.

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