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O'Neill: we're here to spoil Panama's World Cup party

 

By Paul Ferguson

Michael O'Neill has fired up his Northern Ireland young guns to crash the Panama party and claim another World Cup scalp.

The passionate Panamanians hope to send their World Cup heroes on their way to Russia by celebrating a resounding victory in the Estadio Rommel Fernandez (kick off 2.00am Wednesday, UK time).

But O'Neill and his squad, including five uncapped players, plan to tear up the script by adding the scalp of Panama to World Cup bound South Korea, who they defeated in March.

"In a sense we know what Panama are going through because of our qualification for the Euros," says O'Neill, who now has a higher win percentage (35) than any of the previous nine Northern Ireland managers, overtaking legend Billy Bingham.

O'Neill, who took his side to visit the world renowned Panama Canal shipping lane last night, added: "The period between qualifying and going to a major tournament is fantastic because you've something massive to look forward to.

"You've got the sense of achievement having qualified, the excitement for everyone of going, the build up. That period, leading into a tournament is magical and we want to experience that again. We're sitting here now, looking back at November, and thinking well, it could have been us.

"We've already beaten South Korea and we want to keep our winning run going against Panama.

"It will be exciting for our players and it will be interesting to see how they respond. This is their final send-off game so they'll want to win it, put on a performance and I know there will be a good home crowd there to see them off."

This could be a huge couple of weeks for Crusaders star Gavin Whyte. He hopes to make his international debut here and then, when he returns home, seal a move to full-time football in England with Leeds United keen to land the attacking midfielder.

Whyte says: "I think it's the right time to go. I'm 22, I don't think I really had a better year than this oner so hopefully I can get the move I desperately want."

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