BRATISLAVA (Reuters) – Northern Ireland will go into Euro 2016, their first finals appearance for 30 years, with the longest unbeaten run of all 24 teams after drawing 0-0 with Slovakia in a warm-up match in Trnava on Saturday.
Michael O’Neill’s men are now unbeaten in 12 matches but they picked up a few bumps and bruises in a competitive, if unexciting, final friendly before the opening games in France next week.
Defender Aaron Hughes, 36, became Northern Ireland’s first outfield player to win 100 caps when he replaced the injured Craig Cathcart with less than half an hour gone.
In a physical first half the back three of Jonny Evans, Gareth McAuley and Cathcart also took heavy knocks.
Striker Kyle Lafferty then limped off less than 10 minutes into the second period although it looked like a precautionary move by O’Neill with their first match at Euro 2016, against Poland, eight days away.
Slovakia, who play Wales in their opening Group B match on June 11, had the better of the first half with Vladimir Weiss, Patrik Hrosovsky and Robert Mak spurning chances.
The Irish almost went ahead on the stroke of halftime as goalkeeper Matus Kozacik spilled Chris Baird’s low shot.
The home side, who beat Germany in their previous warm-up game, were slicker with their passing but squandered a string of chances, Marek Hamsik adding to the catalog of misses when he failed to get a touch to an inviting cross 10 minutes from time.
The Irish could have snatched victory when Martin Skrtel deflected a cross straight at his goalkeeper whose reactions spared his captain’s blushes.
Northern Ireland’s other opponents in Group C are Ukraine and Germany while Slovakia also meet England and Russia in their section.
(Reporting by Neville Dalton; Editing by Tony Jimenez)