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Northern Ireland will use Central America tests as build-up to Euro 2020 qualifiers: Michael

By Adam McKendry

They may not have qualified for Russia, but Northern Ireland will still face World Cup opponents in two friendlies next year.

In the latest hint he may reject Scotland’s overtures and remain with Northern Ireland, Michael O’Neill has accepted an invitation to lead his side to Central America for a double-header against Panama and Costa Rica as the two nations prepare for Russia.

Panama City and the Stadio Rommel Fernandez is the first stop on the tour on Tuesday, May 29, before they travel to San Jose on Sunday, June 3 to face Costa Rica at the Estadio Nacional.

The Costa Ricans will arguably provide the sterner test in the second match, being ranked 26th in the world, while Panama are 55th.

The last time O’Neill’s men played outside of Europe was on a tour of South America in May and June 2014, when they lost to Uruguay and Chile.

“These are exciting games and are fixtures that we are looking forward to,” O’Neill commented. “In 2014 we travelled to South America to play Uruguay and Chile and those matches were hugely beneficial to us ahead of the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.

“Playing in Central America will be a new experience for everyone involved and while we will enjoy that aspect of the tour, we will be using the matches to give us solid preparation for the Uefa Nations League and Euro 2020 qualifying.”

- Northern Ireland will finish the year 24th in the Fifa World Rankings, with the Republic of Ireland and Scotland finishing joint-32nd. England are 15th and Wales are 19th.

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