Skipper Steven Craigan is confident Northern Ireland’s youthful squad can take many positives from the 2-0 defeat to Turkey in Connecticut on Wednesday ahead of the daunting task of playing World Cup bound Chile tomorrow.
Speaking at the Intercontinental Hotel in the Chilean capital Santiago yesterday, the Motherwell central defender said he believes the squad did surprisingly well against a strong Turkish side, considering that many senior figures such as David Healy and keeper Maik Taylor did not make the trip.
“We’re relatively upbeat. I think we surprised ourselves how the Turkey game went,” Craigan admitted.
“We had spells in the game when we played okay and other spells when we were under the kosh for a little bit. But it’s to be expected.
Considering many of the players met each other for the first time two days before the trip started, the display against Turkey was all the more remarkable, but Craigan knows that South Africa-bound Chile will be a different proposition.
“It will be tough, we’ll probably spend time without the ball again but if our discipline is as good as it was on Wednesday I think we can capitalize and be more clinical,” he added.
Craigan also believes the weather conditions in Chile, now in its winter, will be more favourable for Northern Ireland, who tired in the sweltering heat in Connecticut.
“It doesn’t mean we’re going to go out and win 5-0 but it gives us an opportunity to try to play our game, close people down, try to keep better ball retention, and not worry so much about conditions,” Craigan explained.
The captain admitted he knows little about the Chilean side only that they are going to the World Cup so he expects a tough challenge.
Craigan is still relishing the opportunity to play in South America for the first time.
However, being aware of the more physical style of Irish football compared to the technical flair in South America as well as the Latin penchant for falling over in the penalty box, he hopes the game will be clean.
“The first thing that comes to your mind with South American football is they’re quite passionate about what they do and are prepared sometimes to go over the line to succeed,” he added.
“I hope there’ll be a few tackles and the referee won’t be standing blowing his whistle the whole game.”
And Craigan staunchly defends coach Nigel Worthington’s decision to bring youthful players on board saying it is essential to give upcoming players experience at an international level.
The team contains 17-year-old A-level student John Gorman of Wolves, five Irish League players and uncapped keeper Michael McGovern of Ross County.
“When else can young players get games? If you’re coming into a European Cup or World Cup qualifier, you can’t bring four 17 -year-olds along and throw them in against Serbia away from home,” he said. “This is the whole point of the trip to give guys games and see how they can cope and see if they’re ready to take a step up.”