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Boyce the difference as Northern Irish beat Kiwis

Belfast (AFP) – Liam Boyce’s first international goal gave Northern Ireland a 1-0 win over New Zealand on Friday and an ideal boost ahead of a pivotal 2018 World Cup qualifier with Azerbaijan.

The 26-year-old Ross County striker — who finished top scorer in the Scottish Premiership with 23 goals — struck in the sixth minute of the friendly for his maiden goal in his ninth appearance for his country.

The visitors rarely threatened — experienced central defender Johnny Evans holding the line superbly — with their only strike of note from substitute Kosta Barbarouses which came back off the woodwork.

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill rang the changes through the second-half with an eye on watching others perform before he decides on his starting line-up against the Azeris in Baku next Saturday.

With both Conor Washington and Jamie Ward out of contention for the match Boyce did his chances of starting instead of the experienced Kyle Lafferty — who played the second-half — no harm at all.

Northern Ireland are presently second in Group C, five points behind world champions Germany, at the halfway stage having played five matches.

However, both the Czech Republic and Azerbaijan are just two and three points adrift respectively of the Northern Irish.

New Zealand travel on to play lightly-regarded Belarus in a friendly on June 12th.

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