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Northern Ireland thrashed by Spain despite taking early lead
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Ian Parker, PA, Palma
Press Association
Spain’s Pedri celebrates (Francisco Ubilla/AP)
Spain’s Pedri celebrates (Francisco Ubilla/AP)

Daniel Ballard’s early goal had Northern Ireland dreaming of an upset but it turned into a sobering night in Mallorca as Spain ran out 5-1 winners in their final Euro 2024 tune-up.

Ballard headed Michael O’Neill’s team into a shock lead just 70 seconds in, but once Pedri had levelled from long range 10 minutes later, Spain piled on the punishment for a young Northern Ireland side.

O’Neill had preached the importance of shape and discipline in a game where Northern Ireland knew they would have little of the ball, but time and again Spain had too much time and space as Alvaro Morata and Fabian Ruiz scored either side of Pedri’s second to make it 4-1 before half-time.

Substitute Mikel Oyarzabal added a fifth in a subdued second half as Spanish minds turned to their Euro 2024 opener against Croatia in a week’s time, and Northern Ireland looked to Tuesday’s friendly against Andorra to relieve their frustrations.

They had begun so brightly, instantly getting stuck in to the Spanish players as they showed the confidence from two wins and a draw in their last three.

Inside the opening minute, Conor Bradley dispossessed Robin Le Normand who resorted to a tug of the shirt. Debutant Caolan Boyd-Munce floated in the free-kick and Ballard leapt to nod it into the top corner.

Spain – particularly Le Normand – looked rattled, and the Real Sociedad defender was booked five minutes in for another foul on the lively Bradley. Moments later, Shea Charles’ cross almost fell for Isaac Price but the angle was too tight.

It took Pedri to settle the Spanish ship. The Barcelona midfielder dropped into a pocket of space between the Northern Ireland lines and was too easily allowed to turn before beating Bailey Peacock-Farrell from 25 yards – the 21-year-old’s first international goal.

Five minutes later, former Manchester City man Jesus Navas whipped in a first-time cross and captain Alvaro Morata flicked it in off the far post for his first goal in seven internationals.

A promising run from Bradley was then cut short when Charles stumbled in his path on the edge of the box.

It was the sort of chance Northern Ireland could not afford to squander and Spain were quickly to the other end, with Pedri getting his second in the 29th minute. Again it was too easy, with Nico Williams cutting the ball back and Pedri in space to finish.

O’Neill responded by sending his substitutes to warm up, but that merely afforded them a better view of Spain’s fourth, with a superb ball from Barcelona teenager Lamine Yamal allowing Fabian to head beyond the exposed Peacock-Farrell.

Northern Ireland burst forward in first-half stoppage time, but after Charles’ shot was parried, Jamie Reid pulled the ball back only to watch Price sky it into the stands.

Corry Evans came on at half-time, making his first international appearance since September 2022 following serious injury and playing alongside brother Jonny for the 50th time in the national team.

For the best part of quarter of an hour Northern Ireland stemmed the tide as the game drifted, but the fifth Spain goal came in embarrassing fashion in the 59th minute, when Yamal took the ball off Price and squared for substitute Oyarzabal to beat Peacock-Farrell with a mis-hit shot.

There was a rare chance for Northern Ireland in the 73rd minute when substitute Dale Taylor sprung the offside trap before squaring it to Price, but his shot was palmed away by Unai Simon.

At the other end, there was a big let off when former Stoke man Joselu blazed over from close range, but the damage had long since been done.


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