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Northern Ireland U21s 3-5 Spain U21s: Irish League stars shine against La Liga talent despite harsh defeat

By Gareth Hanna

Northern Ireland were harshly beaten 5-3 by Spain at Shamrock Park on Thursday night.

Captain Liam Donnelly and Shayne Lavery both found the net on a night that saw Crusaders' Gavin Whyte, Glenavon's Mark Sykes and ex-Linfield forward Paul Smyth terrorise three defenders who have 68 La Liga and Bundesliga starts between them this season.

Pure class 💚⚪️ Northern Ireland U21 and Crusaders star Gavin Whyte reflects on nutmegging a man with 28 La Liga starts...

Posted by Belfast Telegraph Sport on Thursday, March 22, 2018

Donnelly ensured the hosts went in level at the break, twice cancelling out goals from Real Sociedad's Mikel Oyarzabal.

Oyarzabal opened the scoring on 15 minutes, converting a pass from Real Madrid star Dani Cabellos, the Spanish captain.

But Northern Ireland, who has started strongly, levelled on the half-hour mark as their own skipper sent the keeper the wrong way from the spot.

Crusaders' Gavin Whyte, who would later hobble off injured, had done well to win the penalty, hacked down senselessly as he tried to shepherd the ball out for a corner.

Oyarzabal thought he had given the visitors the half-time lead with another cool finish on 44 but Donnelly struck again in injury-time, lashing home, even if Shayne Lavery did try to steal it as it went over the line.

Spain started the second half in perfect fashion, Real Madrid's Borja Mayoral converting his first of the night, this one an audacious flick into the bottom corner.

Mayoral would go on to completed a hat-trick with another two close-range efforts but not before NI levelled at 3-3.

This goal came from Everton's Shayne Lavery, a smart touch and blasted finish profiting from fearless running by Glenavon's Mark Sykes, who skipped past a couple of Spain's La Liga defenders.

He wasn't the only Irish League star to trouble La Liga players as Crusaders' Gavin Whyte was outstanding on the right flank.

He was up against Espanyol's Aaron Martin, who has 28 La Liga starts to his names this season. The Spanish full-back was nutmegged twice by the Crues winger, and those weren't the only times Whyte got the better of him either.

So Northern Ireland were denied top spot in the group, but put in a performance to be proud of for the 2,309 members of the GAWA who turned out at Shamrock Park.

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