Northern Ireland defender Jonny Evans hoping Panama can make impact in Russia

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Jonny Evans is hoping England’s World Cup opponents Panama can silence their naysayers in Russia, just like Northern Ireland did at Euro 2016.

Evans skippered the Northern Irish team that drew 0-0 with Los Canaleros on Tuesday evening in their final friendly before they depart for their first ever World Cup.

Hernan Dario Gomez’s side are in a group with England, Belgium and Tunisia and are perceived to be one of the weakest countries at the tournament given they progressed despite taking just 13 points from 10 games in the final section of qualifying.

Northern Ireland know all about being doubted ahead of a major tournament, but two years ago they made it through to the knock-out phase at Euro 2016 where they were narrowly beaten by eventual semi-finalists Wales.

“I think it will be very difficult but I thought they were quite organised,” Evans said of Panama’s World Cup chances.

“They have a Colombian coach with a huge amount of experience and success at international level.

“He has come in and created a little bit of history with this team and they are all playing for him.

“He made a tactical switch for our game because in qualification they played 4-4-2 but maybe he is playing them more defensively looking ahead to the World Cup.

“The standard is very, very high at the World Cup, but we’ve been in that position ourselves going to a major finals and people writing you off.

“It would be nice to see them cause a shock because that is what the World Cup is all about.”

Panama have drawn against Wales and the Northern Irish in their World Cup warm-ups, though both home nations used their respective fixtures to run the rule over their younger players.

Michael O’Neill handed three players their Northern Ireland debuts in Panama City – goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell, midfielder Jordan Thompson and striker Shayne Lavery – while winger Paul Smyth, 20, made just his second appearance.

The pathway from the under-21s to the senior team is one O’Neill has been keen to forge for years with his key players coming to the end of their careers, and Evans is optimistic that this tour could be crucial to the future of Northern Ireland.

“There were four players from the under-21 squad playing for us and I thought it was fantastic,” he said.

“My brother (Corry Evans), a few years back he made his debut for Northern Ireland in an end-of-season friendly against Italy and then took his opportunity to go on a tour in 2010.

“It kick-started his international career and I think this tour for the young lads who have been brought into the squad is all about getting some minutes on the pitch in international football.

“Hopefully they grab the attention of the manager with their performances so they have that experience when called upon in the future to answer the manager’s call.”

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