Northern Ireland’s pre-World Cup friendly showed just how much it means to the Central Americans to be in Russia but a lack of playmakers limits their attacking options
Understanding the intensity of Panama’s feeling towards the World Cup may well be key to England avoiding Group G embarrassment. That’s the verdict of Michael O’Neill, who witnessed the scale of national emotions first-hand when his Northern Ireland team played out a goalless draw in Panama City at the end of May.
As a friendly fixture against a side from these isles formed part of the World Cup debutants’ final preparations for Russia, O’Neill was struck by the mood. “They are well organised, they get men behind the ball,” says the Northern Ireland manager. “But beyond that, they play with a great pride; this is a massive thing for them.