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Watch: Goals from Northern Ireland's defeat to Croatia including Kramaric's stunner

Michael O'Neill regrets as Northern Ireland Windsor fortress crumbles to Croatia

By Paul Ferguson

Published 16/11/2016

Croatia's midfielder Mario Mandzukic (R) scores his team's first goal past Northern Ireland's goalkeeper Alan Mannus during the friendly international football match between Northern Ireland and Croatia at Windsor Park in Belfast on November 15, 2016. AFP/Getty Images
Croatia's midfielder Mario Mandzukic (R) scores his team's first goal past Northern Ireland's goalkeeper Alan Mannus during the friendly international football match between Northern Ireland and Croatia at Windsor Park in Belfast on November 15, 2016. AFP/Getty Images
Vauxhall International Challenge match - Northern Ireland Vs Croatia at National Football Stadium at Windsor Park. Northern Ireland fans Picture by Jonathan Porter/Press Eye.
Vauxhall International Challenge match - Northern Ireland Vs Croatia at National Football Stadium at Windsor Park. Northern Ireland fans Picture by Jonathan Porter/Press Eye.
Vauxhall International Challenge match - Northern Ireland Vs Croatia at National Football Stadium at Windsor Park. Northern Ireland fans Picture by Jonathan Porter/Press Eye.
Croatia's Duje Cop (right) celebrates scoring his sides second goal of the game with team mates during the International Friendly at Windsor Park, Belfast. PA
Northern Ireland's forward Josh Magennis (L) vies with Croatia's defender Marin Leovac during the friendly international football match between Northern Ireland and Croatia at Windsor Park in Belfast on November 15, 2016. AFP/Getty Images
Croatia's midfielder Mario Mandzukic (C) is congratulated by teammates after scoring his team's first goal during the friendly international football match between Northern Ireland and Croatia at Windsor Park in Belfast on November 15, 2016. AFP/Getty Images
Croatia's Mario Mandzukic scores during the game at Windsor Park. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
Croatia's Mario Mandzukic scores in action during the game at Windsor Park on November 15th 2016 in Belfast , Northern Ireland. (Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye)
Zak Brennan on the pitch with dad Gareth during the Northern Ireland and Croatia game at Windsor Park on November 15th 2016 in Belfast , Northern Ireland. (Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye)
Croatia's Mario Mandzukic scores in action during the game at Windsor Park on November 15th 2016 in Belfast , Northern Ireland. (Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye)
Northern Ireland Josh Magennis and Croatia Marin Leovac during Tuesday night's Vauxhall International Challenge Match at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park. Picture by Brian Little/PressEye
Vauxhall International Challenge match - Northern Ireland Vs Croatia at National Football Stadium at Windsor Park. Northern Ireland's Niall McGinn with Croatia's Marko Rog Picture by Jonathan Porter/Press Eye.
Vauxhall International Challenge match - Northern Ireland Vs Croatia at National Football Stadium at Windsor Park. Northern Ireland's Liam Boyce with Croatia's goalkeeper Lovre Kalinic Picture by Jonathan Porter/Press Eye.
Croatia Duje Cop celebrates his goal during this evenings game at the National Stadium, Belfast. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Premier League referee Mark Clattenburg at Windsor. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Croatia's Mario Mandzukic scores in action during the game at Windsor Park on November 15th 2016 in Belfast , Northern Ireland. (Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye)
Northern Ireland Paddy McNair and Croatia Marko Rog during Tuesday night's Vauxhall International Challenge Match at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park. Picture by Brian Little/PressEye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland -15th November 2016 -Picture by Brian Little/PressEye Croatia Mario Mandzukic scores a goal against Northern Ireland during Tuesday night's Vauxhall International Challenge Match at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park. Picture by Brian Little/PressEye
Croatia's Mario Mandzukic scoring against Northern Ireland during Tuesday nights International Friendly at the National Stadium at Windsor Park. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye
Croatia's Mario Mandzukic scoring against Northern Ireland during Tuesday nights International Friendly at the National Stadium at Windsor Park. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye
Croatia's Mario Mandzukic celebrates scoring against Northern Ireland during Tuesday nights International Friendly at the National Stadium at Windsor Park. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye
Northern Ireland's Liam Boyce with Croatia's Ivan Vargic during Tuesday night's International Friendly at the National Stadium at Windsor Park. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye
Northern Ireland's Jonny Evans with Croatia's Milan Badelj during Tuesday night's International Friendly at the National Stadium at Windsor Park. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye
Northern Ireland's Liam Boyce with Croatia's Matej Mitrovic during Tuesday night's International Friendly at the National Stadium at Windsor Park. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye
Northern Ireland fans during Tuesday night's international friendly against Croatia at the National Stadium at Windsor Park. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye
Northern Ireland fans Dexter and Rio faulkner from Lisburn enjoy the match against Croatia during Tuesday night's Vauxhall International Challenge Match at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park. Picture by Brian Little/PressEye
Northern Ireland fans Paul and Carter (8) Foster from Dromara enjoy the match against Croatia during Tuesday night's Vauxhall International Challenge Match at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park. Picture by Brian Little/PressEye
Northern Ireland fans Keith McGuigan and Kurtis Bain Dromore enjoy the match against Croatia during Tuesday night's Vauxhall International Challenge Match at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park. Picture by Brian Little/PressEye
Northern Ireland fans Leslie and Daniel Burke /(11) from Newtownards enjoy the match against Croatia during Tuesday night's Vauxhall International Challenge Match at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park. Picture by Brian Little/PressEye
Northern Ireland fans Colin Baxter and grandson Matthew Dickson (7) from Tandragee enjoy the match against Croatia during Tuesday night's Vauxhall International Challenge Match at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park. Picture by Brian Little/PressEye
Northern Ireland fans Jenna and Andrew Mullholland from Antrim enjoy the match against Croatia during Tuesday night's Vauxhall International Challenge Match at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park. Picture by Brian Little/PressEye
Northern Ireland fans Paula Coulter,Noreen Steenson and Sandra Coulter from Belfast enjoy the match against Croatia during Tuesday night's Vauxhall International Challenge Match at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park. Picture by Brian Little/PressEye
Northern Ireland fans during Tuesday night's international friendly against Croatia at the National Stadium at Windsor Park. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye
Northern Ireland fans during Tuesday night's international friendly against Croatia at the National Stadium at Windsor Park. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye
Northern Ireland fans during Tuesday night's international friendly against Croatia at the National Stadium at Windsor Park. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye
Northern Ireland fans during Tuesday night's international friendly against Croatia at the National Stadium at Windsor Park. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye
Northern Ireland fans during Tuesday night's international friendly against Croatia at the National Stadium at Windsor Park. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye
Northern Ireland fans during Tuesday night's international friendly against Croatia at the National Stadium at Windsor Park. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye
Croatia fans expelled for holding political symbols during the International Friendly at Windsor Park, Belfast. PA
Fans during the International Friendly at Windsor Park, Belfast. PA
Croatia's Manager Ante Cacic during the International Friendly at Windsor Park, Belfast. PA

Michael O'Neill witnessed Northern Ireland suffer their first home loss in three years and admitted he may reconsider arranging friendlies after competitive games in the future.

A depleted Croatia team ran out 3-0 winners at Windsor Park, where the hosts were last defeated by Portugal in 2013.

It rounded off a memorable calendar year in disappointing fashion, though will certainly not overshadow the memories of Euro 2016 and the record 12-match unbeaten run O'Neill's team compiled en route to France.

However, having played this fixture just four days after beating Azerbaijan in a World Cup qualifier, O'Neill (left) admits he needs to look at future schedules.

"I think a friendly after a competitive game is maybe not something we would do again," he said.

O’Neill continued: “We will be fully focused to play again in March; I’ve told the players tonight’s result isn’t important. We have a big game against Norway to put ourselves at 10 points (in the World Cup qualification process) and in an even stronger position.

“Our priority was that we win the game on Friday night. If anything tonight was probably maybe a game we didn’t need with the injuries we had but we got some of our players who’ve had little exposure on the pitch; that was the bonus for us.”

Although Michael McGovern and Conor Washington had returned to England for treatment on injuries, the appetite to play for Northern Ireland, one that has been fostered in these good times under O’Neill, was epitomised by Jonny Evans.

The three-time Premier League winner became a father again last week and was offered the chance to skip this game by O’Neill, only to fly back in to Belfast on the morning of a game he played in its entirety.

“It’s unbelievable,” O’Neill added.

“He only came in this morning for the game, his wife’s had a baby and he went home for a few days.

“I gave him the option to miss the game and he came back in to play, I think that says everything about Jonny Evans, in terms of his attitude to play.”

Alongside Evans in the starting line-up was debutant Matthew Lund of Rochdale, while Shrewsbury’s Ryan McGivern and Ross County’s Liam Boyce were among those to see the field too.

“I don’t have a deep squad, that’s pretty simple,” O’Neill argued.

“We’re playing against Croatia who are bringing in young players who are at Napoli and Inter Milan. With all due respect, we’re bringing in lads that are at Shrewsbury and League One clubs — we have to be realistic when we ask them to come and play international football.”

Croatia’s night was thankfully not overshadowed by more crowd trouble, although 25 of their supporters were ejected from the home end after security moved in during the first half.

Both of their last two home World Cup qualifiers have been hosted behind closed doors due to previous crowd trouble, and a banner reading ‘Never Forget Vukovar’ was unfurled, a reference to a massacre that occurred in 1991 during the Croatian War of Independence.

On the pitch, after goals from Mario Mandzukic and Duje Cop, their night was capped off by a 30-yard rocket from Andrej Kramaric, who certainly did not show such ability during an ill-fated short spell at Leicester.

“I think he made a great move when he made it to the Bundesliga,” Croatian boss Ante Cacic said of the current Hoffenheim forward. “He made a big step forward; he’s playing impressively for the national team, he’s useful in the build-up play and he’s a great converter of chances.”

World Cup Qualifiers

March 26, 2017: Azerbaijan v Germany, San Marino v Czech Republic, Northern Ireland v Norway.

June 10, 2017: Azerbaijan v Northern Ireland, Germany v San Marino, Norway v Czech Republic.

September 1, 2017: Czech Republic v Germany, Norway v Azerbaijan, San Marino v Northern Ireland.

September 4, 2017: Azerbaijan v San Marino, Germany v Norway, Northern Ireland v Czech Republic.

October 5, 2017: Azerbaijan v Czech Republic, Northern Ireland v Germany, San Marino v Norway.

October 8, 2017: Czech Republic v San Marino, Germany v Azerbaijan, Norway v Northern Ireland.

 

Belfast Telegraph

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