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Magilton embracing Italy encounter

Northern Ireland Under-21 manager Jim Magilton believes his side will benefit from the experience of hosting Italy on Wednesday.

Sitting bottom of Group 9 with just three points from six matches, Northern Ireland have no prospect of qualifying for next year's European Under-21 Championship in the Czech Republic.

But Magilton, who also works as the Irish Football Association's elite performance director, believes coming into close quarters with sides such as the Azzurri can only help his players.

Italy arrive at Lurgan's Mourneview Park behind Serbia and Belgium in the standings and with plenty to play for.

"They are a great footballing nation and we're looking forward to having them over here," he said.

"It's a great opportunity for our young players to play against a really top-class side.

"This is very much a learning curve for a lot of these young players. This is where they will make their mistakes.

"But it's all part of their footballing education. At 21 they probably think they have cracked it, but they most certainly haven't."

Northern Ireland recorded their first win of the campaign against Cyprus last time out, Johnny Gorman's deflected free-kick delivering a 1-0 win, yet there are improvements to be made on their last meeting with Italy, where late mistakes came at a high cost.

"When we played them in Reggiana we were very good for periods of the game," said Magilton.

"We were competitive, we limited them to very few chances and then we got punished for two mistakes. If you do that against top-class opposition that is going to happen."

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