It has been nine years since the Northern Ireland senior women’s team played at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park.
A lot has changed since that match against Belgium. The stadium has been given a multi-million pound revamp for starters, while the women’s team are very much on an upward trajectory after qualifying for their first major tournament. And women’s football in general in Northern Ireland is going from strength to strength.
Experienced Northern Ireland captain Marissa Callaghan did not face the Belgians and admits she is buzzing at the prospect of playing at the home of Northern Ireland football for the first time while representing her country in tonight's FIFA Women's World Cup qualifier against Latvia (7pm start). She will be earning her 66th cap.
And manager Kenny Shiels says it will be a huge thrill for his players to perform at the historic stadium.
In his Manager’s View in the matchday programme he says the team are in “great spirits” following the 4-0 victory over Luxembourg Women in their opening FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 qualifier.
While Northern Ireland were defeating Luxembourg in Larne on Friday, tonight’s opponents were shipping eight goals at home in their first European Qualifying Group D encounter. They were beaten 8-1 by Austria, who are second seeds in the group behind England.
“That defeat will no doubt have dented their confidence, however I am certain they will want to bounce back from it as quickly as possible, so we will have to be on our guard tonight,” said Shiels.
Northern Ireland will be targeting an eighth successive competitive win when they face the Latvians and Shiels has hinted that he hopes to give all 20 of his outfield players some game time in this international window; he used 16 of them in Larne.
That means there may be a few changes to the starting 11 as Northern Ireland go in search of another three points.
In the programme he also revealed: “I was pleased with many aspects of our play against Luxembourg at Inver Park. We dominated possession and created more than 30 chances.
“You could argue that given those statistics we should have scored more. And that’s probably correct, but to score four without reply at international level is no mean feat.”
The Latvians arrive in Belfast having not managed either a win or a draw in eight games across 2020 and 2021.
Most of their players ply their trade in the Latvian league, however a few members of their squad are with Polish and Icelandic clubs respectively. Striker Viktorija Zaicikova, who plays for IBV in Iceland, scored their goal against the Austrians.