Northern Ireland hoping to give glimpse of future against South Korea

Northern Ireland fans could get a glimpse of the future at Windsor Park on Saturday after Michael O'Neill promoted Paul Smyth and Shayne Lavery to his senior squad.

Northern Ireland hoping to give glimpse of future against South Korea

Northern Ireland fans could get a glimpse of the future at Windsor Park on Saturday after Michael O'Neill promoted Paul Smyth and Shayne Lavery to his senior squad.

Northern Ireland's friendly opponents are South Korea in the nation's first fixture since their hopes of reaching this summer's World Cup were dashed in cruel fashion by a November play-off exit to Switzerland.

Despite fears that O'Neill and his key senior figures would bid farewell to the Green and White Army after that loss, the manager recently penned a new deal while Aaron Hughes and Gareth McAuley, both 38, remain in this squad.

O'Neill also has "hope" that the current Northern Ireland Under-21s side and his recent senior caps can emerge to ensure the nation's period of success can be extended.

George Saville and Jordan Jones should feature against the South Koreans having impressed when introduced towards the end of the World Cup qualifiers, while Norwich's 20-year-old Jamal Lewis is likely to win his maiden cap.

Following the withdrawal of four experienced players, Smyth and Lavery have also joined the group after impressing for the under-21s against Spain on Thursday night to leave O'Neill buoyant about the next generation.

"The transition from being an under-21 to becoming a senior international is short and these are two boys who are testament to that," he said.

"I see a lot of hope in the under-21s - players who can potentially come through and make their mark at senior international level."

O'Neill has previously questioned the merits of friendlies but Northern Ireland now have three non-competitive games against nations bound for the World Cup.

For a greener group of players, O'Neill believes the fixtures with South Korea, Panama and Costa Rica will pay dividends when the qualification campaign for the Euros begins next year.

"We are looking for a good performance and to get the disappointment of Switzerland out of the way," he added.

"We will play in front of a good crowd against a very strong team.

They are technically-gifted players and it's all part of the learning curve for our players, particularly the new ones to the squad.

"We have nine games between now and next March and they are vital going into the next qualifying campaign."

The player that will provide the sternest challenge is Tottenham forward Son Heung-min, who left for international duty having scored seven times in his last five Spurs outings.

That took his tally to 39 over the past two seasons and South Korea captain and Swansea midfielder Ki Sung-yueng maintains Son is still under-appreciated in England.

"I don't say this (just) because he is Asian but I think he must get more credit," Ki said.

"He has to be in more of the top stories in newspapers. He scores very important goals for Spurs and the consistency is not easy for every player."

- PA

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