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O'Neill: Hampden will boost players

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill will use a trip to the "iconic" Hampden Park to give more young players the chance to prove they have the mettle required for international football.

O'Neill has seen some young players come to the fore during an impressive start to their European Championship qualifying campaign, which has seen them pick up nine points from four matches thanks to away wins in Hungary and Greece.

O'Neill's side host Finland on Sunday in their next qualifier but they first of all will face Scotland in a friendly in Glasgow.

The former Shamrock Rovers boss said: "It will be a good test for us because, often with a friendly international, it can be a little bit low key.

"We have had a couple of those in the last few years and didn't get very much out of them. I think we will get a lot out of this game.

"The nature of it being Scotland-Northern Ireland will add to that as well and hopefully a big crowd at Hampden. Hampden is still an iconic stadium for our lads to get the opportunity to play at as well.

"So I think it will be of huge benefit to us. For some of our younger players, it will be a huge game for them to be tested in that environment and it will be an opportunity for me to see how they respond to that.

"We went to South America in the summer and played against Uruguay and Chile and, off the back of that, we found Conor McLaughlin for example, who has established himself at right-back, and we found Luke McCullough, who has come in and been part of the squad. This is an opportunity for other players to stake their claim.

"It's an opportunity for us to look at a couple of things from a tactical point of view, and an opportunity to give players who have not played very much football recently at club level, but are key players for us at international level, and an opportunity to introduce some of the younger players as well.

"But the main focus is that we get through the game, we have a good performance, and it sets us up nicely for the game on Sunday."

Scotland have made a similarly positive start to their qualifying campaign and former Dundee United and Hibernian midfielder O'Neill believes that is a sign of a healthy game in a country he still spends much of his time in.

The former Brechin manager said: "It's pretty evident the improvement that's been made. They have seven points and they probably feel a little bit aggrieved that they don't have more than that. They were very unlucky in Poland not to win the game and possibly unlucky in Germany not to take something from the game. Scotland are in a very strong position in the group.

"But the main thing for me about Scottish football, and I watch it on a regular basis and we have a lot of players playing here now, is the influx of young players through the Scottish Premiership and the Scottish Championship as well. That has to be good for the national team.

"I think there has been too much negative publicity about Scottish football in recent times, obviously because of what has gone on with certain clubs, and I just think that now there should be a focus on the number of young players, potentially future international players, that are playing here.

"I think the game here is in a much healthier state than people give it credit for.

"People will always look at finance and crowds but what we see now is that young players with real potential getting the chance to play and I think that's a very healthy situation for Scottish football."

Meanwhile, O'Neill revealed he had minor fitness doubts over Aberdeen forward Niall McGinn and Blackburn defender Corry Evans and would check their fitness on Wednesday morning.

"It's not a game to take a risk with players' fitness, not only because of the game on Sunday but also out of respect to the players' clubs as well," he added.

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