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Northern Ireland held by England's World Cup opponents

Michael O’Neill handed three debuts out during last night’s draw with Panama.

Panama's Edgar Barcenas and Northern Ireland captain Jonny Evans.
Panama's Edgar Barcenas and Northern Ireland captain Jonny Evans.
Image: Arnulfo Franco

WORLD CUP-BOUND Panama played out a goalless draw at home to Northern Ireland in last night’s international friendly.

There were fireworks prior to the fixture and during the half-time break at Estadio Rommel Fernandez as Panama prepare to make their first World Cup appearance.

However, there were not many fireworks on the pitch, though Panama’s Edgar Joel Barcenas hit the crossbar with a header in the first half.

Panama fielded an experienced starting XI in their farewell match before leaving for Europe to face Norway ahead of the World Cup, where they will play Belgium, England and Tunisia in Group G.

Captain Felipe Baloy, earning his 102nd cap, Panama’s most-capped player Gabriel Gomez (143) and equal all-time leading scorer Luis Tejada (43 goals in 105 appearances) were in the line-up, while Jose Rodriguez made his debut.

Northern Ireland, who failed to qualify for the World Cup following a play-off loss to Switzerland, included former Manchester United pair Jonny Evans and Paddy McNair.

Manager Michael O’Neill handed international debuts to three players as substitutes – Goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell (Leeds United), midfielder Jordan Thompson (Rangers) and striker Shayne Lavery (Everton).

Panama v Northern Ireland - International Friendly - Estadio Rommel Fernandez Gutierrez A banner predicting the outcome of Panama's World Cup Group G. Source: PA Archive/PA Images

Panama controlled proceedings during the early exchanges and the home side were unfortunate not to take the lead in the 18th minute.

Barcenas rose highest at the back post but his header from Fidel Escobar’s cross rattled the crossbar, while a rebound was cleared off the line.

Northern Ireland slowly found their rhythm but neither team came close to breaking the deadlock before half-time.

It was more of the same after the break as Panama and Northern Ireland struggled to create any real openings – an influx of substitutions affecting the rhythm of the match.

Panama goalkeeper Jose Calderon, however, was called into action after Josh Magennis managed to unleash a shot on target.

Substitute Roman Torres almost netted the winner for Panama with eight minutes remaining but his header sailed just over the bar.

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