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Searing heat knocked us out of our stride, but overall tour was positive: Evans

By Paul Ferguson

Skipper Jonny Evans admitted the sweltering heat was Northern Ireland's toughest opponent on their two-match tour of Central America and it badly affected their ability to play their natural game.

Northern Ireland drew 0-0 in Panama last Tuesday and then lost 3-0 to Costa Rica at the Estadio Nacional in San Jose.

On both occasions the mercury was hitting over 30 degrees.

The game in Panama City was played at 8pm, but there was no drop in temperature and the humidity was so high that the players struggled with their breathing and recovery, while in San Jose, the match kicked off at 11am with the sun glaring down throughout.

Some staff around the pitch had to be treated for sunstroke.

"Apart from the fact we were missing so many of our key players, it's very, very difficult to play in these conditions," stressed Evans, who is expected to leave relegated West Brom this summer and join a Premier League club due to his £3m release clause.

"When you don't have the ball and they are passing the ball across the pitch, they are running side to side, it's very difficult because your legs are tired from the actions of trying to get the ball back. When you do get the ball back, it's very difficult to find passes or burst forward. We found that very difficult."

Northern Ireland conceded two goals from corner kicks against Costa Rica - much to the ire of Evans, who was playing in midfield on Sunday but was forced to drop deep to help his defence out with vital headed clearances.

The men in green have always been strong with set-plays and usually practice them on the morning of a game, but due to the 11am kick-off that wasn't possible.

Evans said: "They are going to the World Cup so they've probably been practicing their set-pieces - it's a big part of the game. For us, it was a quick turnaround from the Panama game, different personnel in the team - but the whole point of these games was to try and learn from them and see where we can improve.

"When you lose you can always say that the performance wasn't good but there were times in the game where our shape was good, we were getting up to the ball well. It was maybe the other side of the game, composure and choice of pass that let us down.

"You can always look back on these trips and consider them positive because so many young lads managed to get their debuts. That's what these trips are for, to be able to integrate young stars."

Evans and brother Corry, along with McLaughlin siblings Conor and Ryan, created history on Sunday from 60 minutes onwards as it was the first time Northern Ireland have ever had two sets of brothers on the pitch.

Evans added: "When I saw Michael making the double substitution, I thought that's a great moment in the history of Northern Ireland. It's great to be part of it."

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Our coverage of Northern Ireland's tour to play Panama and Costa Rica is brought to you in conjunction with BetMcLean.

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