Spain again for McIlroy

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The Independent Football

Twenty years after their finest hour, the 1-0 defeat of Spain, the 1982 World Cup hosts, in Valencia, Northern Ireland are to be given a rematch.

Gerry Armstrong's goal is still toasted in Belfast, but Northern Ireland do not have players of the quality of Norman Whiteside, Martin O'Neill and Sammy McIlroy and Spain are a far better side than that brutal 1982 team. In their seven subsequent meetings, there have been just three Ulster goals.

McIlroy is now manager of a young and improving Northern Irish squad, which, like Wales, has been dealt an unkind hand by the draw. They face uncomfortable trips to Ukraine and Armenia, as well as Greece.

A friendly against the Spanish in April would make a good yardstick. McIlroy must hope to do better than Bryan Hamilton, for whom defeats home and away against Ukraine and a failure to beat Armenia in either Yerevan or Belfast proved the catalyst for the sack.

As Greece proved against England at Old Trafford, the influence of their German coach, Otto Rehhagel, is finally knitting a team riven by in-fighting into a reasonably competent unit. Sammy McIlroy's boys will do well to emulate the feats of the 1961 side which overcame the Greeks 2-0, with their attack led by another McIlroy – Burnley's James.

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