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Spain defeat can be 'massive lesson' for NI - Bradley

Northern Ireland's Conor Bradley says their 5-1 defeat in Spain on Saturday can be a "massive lesson" as they look to build a side capable of playing at the 2026 World Cup.

Qualifying for that tournament starts in March, before which Michael O'Neill's side will play Andorra in a friendly on Tuesday, followed by Luxembourg, Bulgaria and Belarus in Nations League games this autumn.

Northern Ireland did take the lead in Palma, scoring through Dan Ballard after just 69 seconds, but Bradley felt the home side's "class showed" thereafter.

"We'll be playing someone like that in World Cup qualification so it's a massive lesson for us and we need to learn from it quickly," said the 20-year-old Liverpool full-back.

"Hopefully when the time comes, we'll be ready for it and hopefully with more players playing in the Premier League, the Championship and at a higher level so we're better equipped for it when it does come."

While Spain spent large passages of the game looking wholly comfortable on the ball, Northern Ireland certainly unsettled Luis de la Fuente's side in the opening minutes.

Bradley won the free-kick that led to Ballard's goal by harrying Robin le Normand and soon after the Real Sociedad defender was booked for halting a counter-attack following a foul on the same player.

Rodri was also caught in possession early on, leading to another chance for the visitors.

"We started the game brilliantly," added Bradley. "We were on the front foot, we dispossessed them in their half a couple of times and the early goal obviously helped."

Even after Spain seized control of the game with four goals in 23 first-half minutes, Standard Liege midfielder Isaac Price still had two real sights at Unai Simon's goal but could convert neither.

"We probably could have scored three goals," added Bradley.

"The way we play, we're quite direct, we get the ball forward and try to create stuff once we're up there.

"There were plenty of positives, but definitely some negatives that we need to learn from. It's disappointing. I didn't think we deserved to concede as many goals as we did.

"They're a world-class team and they're probably going over to try to win the Euros."

St Mirren midfielder Caolan Boyd-Munce found out on the morning of the game he would be making his international debut at the Son Moix Stadium, describing Spain as "comfortably" the best opposition he has faced in his career.

"You have to meet it head on, it's sink or swim," he said. "There's nothing to lose and everything to gain from games like this. There's no point going in with a stubborn attitude that we think we are something.

"That was never the case. We wanted to go in, put our best foot forward and see what we could gain from it."

It was the 24-year-old's set-piece delivery that created Ballard's goal in what was a dream introduction to international football.

"We poked the bear," he added on the early goal.

"There's so much learning there for us. On the ball, off the ball, how quick they move it, how little they move which is a skill in itself.

"I'm looking forward to watching it back because there'll be so much to learn."