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Saturday 23 Oct 2021
Northern Ireland Women face mammoth task against England

It’s David v Goliath, it’s the minnow against the whale, the cannon versus the pistol, the big dog against the tiny pooch, and so on…

However, Kenny Shiels, the Northern Ireland senior women’s team manager, says it’s 11 v 11 when it comes to his team facing England Women at Wembley this afternoon (5.15 start).

The Lionesses are huge favourites to bank three points in the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 qualifier in London and score a handful of goals in the process.

Shiels has different ideas though. He knows it’s a mammoth task for his team to get anything from the match against one of the best teams in the world - but he believes wholeheartedly in his players and that their collective spirit will help them to produce a good performance at the iconic stadium in front of more than 30,000 fans, including a 400-plus contingent of the Green and White Army.

Northern Ireland captain Marissa Callaghan also admits the girls in green and white are massive underdogs going into the game, however she says their run of eight consecutive wins in competitive matches has instilled great belief in their ranks and they are capable of causing a huge upset against a team ranked 40 places above them.

Both teams are missing key players for the European Qualifying Group D encounter.

England, who will be playing their first competitive fixture at Wembley since England’s national stadium reopened in 2007, are set to be without their usual captain, Steph Houghton, and her Manchester City team-mates Lucy Bronze and goalkeeper Ellie Roebuck.

However, Manchester City striker Ellen White, who has scored more than 40 goals for her country, is once again expected to lead the line in a strong Lionesses side.

Her Man City team-mate Keira Walsh could return after missing out on last month’s emphatic Group D victories against North Macedonia and Luxembourg through injury, while Arsenal’s Leah Williamson is again expected to wear the captain’s armband for an England team that will be packed with players who operate in the FA’s Women’s Super League.

England head coach Sarina Wiegman may give debuts at some stage to Manchester United pair Katie Zelem and Alessia Russo and Aston Villa goalkeeper Hannah Hampton.

The Lionesses will be keen to maintain their 100% record in the group, as will Northern Ireland, and to stay in touch with Austria, who made it three wins out of three when defeating Luxembourg 5-0 last night.

Northern Ireland, who have two wins out of two in the group to date, will be without Everton Women striker Simone Magill - due to a family bereavement - and Birmingham City Women defender Rebecca Holloway, who is injured.

Shiels said the absence of Magill and Holloway - the only players in his squad who play in the WSL - was a blow but he insisted his squad will cope.

He also pointed out Crusaders Strikers forward Emily Wilson has recovered from a knock, which was a positive ahead of today’s clash.

"It's 11 versus 11 on the pitch. We have a chance of winning, they have a chance of winning - so that is how we will approach it," Shiels told the media yesterday.

And he added that he has trust in his players and he believes they will give a really good account of themselves in the game.