Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Worthington wants Northern Ireland's young players to shine

Northern Ireland coach Nigel Worthington has called on his youthful squad to prove they deserve a place in his future plans by impressing against world champions Italy tomorrow.

Worthington is to give at least four members of his 18-man squad their senior debuts in tomorrow night's friendly match in Pisa and says it is up to them to make a good impression and give him a selection headache for the future.

"For some of the youngsters, this is a great opportunity and a challenge," he said.

"Steve Carson and Colin Coates are getting a start and it is great for them and for Irish league players.

"When it comes to picking a senior group, you possibly look at 18 to 22 or 23 players and, while there are the mainstays, there are two or three positions where people can work their way into the group."

Worthington praised the more experienced members of his squad for helping the youngsters settle into what, for many, is a new experience in strange surroundings.

Their first taste of international football will come against the defending world champions, but Worthington is confident they will rise to the occasion, believing he has picked the right blend of youth and experience.

And he admits his first impressions have been very positive after leading two training sessions since arriving in Pisa.

"Overall I've been very pleased," he said. "Their attitude has been very good.

"As always the youngsters have been full of enthusiasm.

"And the older players: (Grant) McCann, (David) Healy and (Damien) Johnson. Those three's attitude with the youngsters has been absolutely first class and that, from a manager's point of view, is what you are looking for."

While Worthington is set to hand out several first caps tomorrow night, the Italy squad will also be riddled with debutants and without many of the household names that their coach Marcelo Lippi has preferred to leave out for this final friendly before they fly out to South Africa for the Confederations Cup.

This, according to the Northern Ireland coach, serves to "level the playing field", which is why he is not contemplating mounting the barricades and hoping for the best tomorrow night.

"We want to try and get a decent result," he said.

"We've set ourselves up in such a manner to certainly keep it tight.

"We know that the Italians are going to get a fair share of the possession, but we have got to be patient, keep our shape, keep our discipline and when we get the ball, we want to go and pass it as well.

"We are certainly not thinking on the defeat side. We are looking for a good performance and for these young ones to feel they are in a situation where they are coming through."

Birmingham's Johnson will be leading the team out at the Arena Garibaldi and, even though he will not be walking shoulder to shoulder with Fabio Cannavaro or Gianluigi Buffon, he still has the necessary respect for his opponents.

"The teams they play for are all top teams and, although it may not be their usual starting XI, the one they have used in the qualifiers, their guys are going to be like our guys and are going to be eager to impress," he said.

"It is going to be a really tough game tomorrow night."

Worthington has confirmed that all 18 members of his squad are fit and available while Chris Casement, Colin Coates, Stephen Carson and Corry Evans will make their debuts from the beginning.

However, he could not confirm that all of his substitutes will be used. That, he said, depends on how big a chance his side still has to win the game.

"It is up to them to take the bull by the horns," he added.

"I would like to give most of them a game if I can, but we will have to see how things are.

"If there is a possibility of getting a good result, then we will try to do it and we could stick with the 11 players out there if they are in decent shape."

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