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Spain loss will help Northern Ireland’s learning curve – Conor Bradley

Conor Bradley called on Northern Ireland to learn from their loss to Spain (Andrew Milligan/PA)
Conor Bradley called on Northern Ireland to learn from their loss to Spain (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Liverpool star Conor Bradley believes Northern Ireland will learn from their 5-1 beating at the hands of Euro 2024-bound Spain as they look ahead to next year’s World Cup qualifiers.

Daniel Ballard’s header less than 70 seconds into the encounter in Palma had the travelling Green and White Army dreaming of another famous result against the Spaniards.

But from the moment Pedri levelled 10 minutes later there looked like only one winner as Spain’s class told, with Alvaro Morata and Fabian Ruiz scoring either side of Pedri’s second to make it 4-1 at half-time, and substitute Mikel Oyarzabal getting another in the second half.

“We had a great start to the game,” Bradley said. “I thought we got out of the blocks fast and then obviously their class showed.

“They are a world-class team and they will try and go and win the Euros and for us the game was a big learning curve. Hopefully we can take that into the World Cup qualifying campaign next year and the Nations League.”

Bradley was key to Northern Ireland’s strong start, winning the free-kick from which debutant Caolan Boyd-Munce supplied Ballard, and forcing Robin Le Normand into a tackle that earned the Real Sociedad defender a booking moments later.

But Spain, who open their Euro 2024 campaign against Croatia next Saturday, would prove too strong for Michael O’Neill’s young side.

“We didn’t deserve to concede as many goals as we did but it is something to learn from and something for us to improve on,” Bradley added.

“The first 10 minutes we were sort of all over them and taking the ball off them and causing problems but their class showed and they were so good on the ball.”

Bradley is no stranger to facing elite players with Liverpool, but Jonny Evans was the only other Premier League player in O’Neill’s side. For many in white, it was an education.

“We knew before the game we weren’t going to have much of the ball,” Bradley said.

“I play against players like that most weeks and I’m quite used to it but some of the lads are playing in the Championship and League One and it is difficult for everybody and the way they counter-press you it is hard to break that press.

“We will play a team like that in the World Cup qualifiers and hopefully we will be ready for it and hopefully when that time comes more of our players will be playing in the Premier League and Championship and at a higher level.”

Northern Ireland came into the game on the back of two wins and a draw, and will look to end their warm-weather training camp on a positive note against Andorra in Murcia on Tuesday – a match in which they will be strong favourites.

Bradley said he did not expect Saturday’s defeat to damage confidence as they look ahead to the Nations League campaign to come in the autumn.

“Hopefully we will get back to winning ways against Andorra and definitely our heads will stay up and hopefully we can continue on an upward trajectory,” he said.

“We should have more of the ball against Andorra and show what we are all about. It is going to be a different task altogether and we are looking forward to it.”