Northern Ireland senior women’s team manager Kenny Shiels admits Ukraine will be “tough opposition” in the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 play-offs next month.
Shiels’ side are set to face the Ukrainians home and away between 7 and 13 April for a place at the Women’s European Championship finals in England next year.
They will play Ukraine away in the first game of the two-legged play-off, possibly in Kiev, however the venues and dates for both matches still have to be confirmed.
“There’s no doubt these matches will be tough, but it was going to be tough no matter who we got,” he said following today’s play-offs draw at UEFA HQ in Switzerland.
“I am pleased that we now know our opponents so that we can prepare for the matches. We will prepare to the best of our capacity,” he insisted, adding that preparations will get under way tomorrow with a training session.
Ukraine finished runners-up to Germany in the qualifiers, while Republic of Ireland were third in their group.
And Shiels has already spoken to Republic of Ireland Women manager Vera Pauw about the Ukrainians. “I spoke to her a few weeks back when I found out who our potential opponents were,” he revealed.
Northern Ireland Women last played Ukraine Women at the Pinatar Cup competition in Spain a year ago when the Ukrainians ran out 4-0 winners against a youthful Northern Ireland team.
However, Shiels said that result will have no bearing on next month’s play-off ties. “It was a friendly and friendlies are just about match conditioning,” he pointed out.
Match conditioning is, however, something that concerns him ahead of the games in April.
In the run-up to the four qualifiers late last year, which sealed Northern Ireland’s place in the play-offs for a major tournament for the first time in their history, he was able to play practice matches against men’s sides.
But under Northern Ireland’s current Covid restrictions such matches are not allowed.
“You can train and train, but you need to play games to get match fitness. When we played England the other week we only had a few players who were match conditioned. Most of our players had not taken part in a competitive match for months,” he pointed out.
England is set to host the 16-team UEFA Euro finals from 6 to 31 July next year.