O'Neill boosted by Suarez absence
Published 27/05/2014 | 21:27
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill believes Luis Suarez's absence from Friday's friendly assignment in Uruguay is a double-edged sword.
O'Neill was looking forward to pitting his young travelling squad against the Barclays Premier League player of the year but the knee injury that has put the striker's World Cup appearance in doubt has put paid to that.
And while that robs O'Neill of the opportunity to see his side take the 27-year-old on, it also promises to make life somewhat easier in Montevideo.
"It would have been terrific for the players to come up against Luis Suarez, particularly for some of the younger lads who will start the Uruguay game," said O'Neill.
"It is always good to challenge yourself against the best in the world like we did against Cristiano Ronaldo in the World Cup qualifying campaign.
"If I'm being honest, though, I'm not exactly devastated Suarez won't be fit enough to face us.
"He is a big, big part of their team and it will be interesting to see how they cope without him."
Northern Ireland are missing a string of senior players for the two-match tour, which concludes in Chile on June 4, leaving a host of peripheral players - five of whom are uncapped - to stake their claim.
O'Neill never expected to have a full compliment of players at his disposal and is enthusiastic about the forthcoming tests.
"When we arranged the tour I knew it wouldn't be the strongest squad I could name but this gives some of the younger fringe players a chance to get involved with the group and it will be a huge learning curve," he said.
"I have been delighted with their commitment and enthusiasm about coming to South America.
"Of course we have two extremely difficult games ahead of us but it will be terrific for those younger lads who do play and the experienced ones to test themselves against some players who will star at the World Cup.
"The players are fresh and raring to go. It was a long trip to get here but the travel arrangements were great and the players got plenty of rest."