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Northern Ireland v New Zealand: Michael O'Neill relishing difficult test

Half-time - Northern Ireland 1 - New Zealand 0

By Graham Luney

Michael O'Neill feels New Zealand will be tricky opponents for his World Cup finals hopefuls tonight.

The friendly will allow the Northern Ireland manager to assess fringe players aiming to secure regular places in his squad.

O'Neill's priority is next Saturday's World Cup qualifier in Azerbaijan, a match that could have a huge bearing on their bid to reach the 2018 finals.

"It's interesting watching the footage of them and it will be a good game for us, it will be an athletic game and that's what we want," said O'Neill. "Australia, New Zealand; they are physical and powerful players. That's the kind of test you want.

"We don't want a slow, ponderous game; we want players to get as much out of it as possible, and want the physical aspect to test them. They aren't bringing a team just to play a game This is part of their preparation and it's a big thing for them to be involved in the Confederations Cup. They won't be taking it lightly, their preparations are very important to them. That means it's going to be a good test.

"While they're a little bit unknown in terms of where they play their club football, they have some very good players in there. I'm glad we took the game. It will be a good test."

O'Neill will take his team to Turkey to acclimatise next week and is not fretting over his players adapting, though the draw was certainly not kind to Northern Ireland when it threw up a fixture in baking Baku at the end of the season.

"This is the worst game we could have logistically at this time of the year," O'Neill admitted. "If it's a home game, great, the players are happy, they're back in Belfast, they're relaxed and looking forward to the game.

"The only thing that works in our favour is that it's a single game. But that's the way the fixtures came out and we'll have to deal with it. I think we'll be fine. I'm not overly concerned about the conditions. I also see in the players already that their preparation and application is really good." Meanwhile, Northern Ireland international Adam Thompson has agreed a three-year deal with Bury.

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