It’s a much used cliché, however Northern Ireland’s encounter with England at UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 tonight is very much a David v Goliath affair.
Tournament hosts England have strolled into the quarter-finals after defeating Austria (1-0) and Norway (8-0) in Group A to date.
The girls in green and white, however, have promised they will not lie down at St Mary’s Stadium (8pm kick-off) despite going into the match as massive underdogs.
After losing 4-1 to Norway and 2-0 against Austria in their opening fixtures, they are determined to exit their first ever major tournament with their heads held high.
Throughout this week, following the defeat to the Austrians which signalled the team’s departure from the Euros, the players have been united in saying that they will give their all against the hugely impressive Lionesses.
Defender Rebecca McKenna insisted: “We will come together as a group and we will give it everything from the first minute to the last.”
And midfielder Joely Andrews promised: “It's a massive ask for us, but we know it is our last game of this tournament and we will leave it all out there.”
In addition defender/midfielder Demi Vance said: “We’ll fight for every ball and stick together as a team and give the best possible account of ourselves.”
Perhaps ominously for Northern Ireland, England head coach Wiegman said yesterday that she will not be making wholesale changes to her starting line-up as she does not want to upset her team’s “rhythm” in the tournament – and that’s despite the fact that such is the strength in depth of her squad that a team solely chosen from England’s bench could give anyone a run for their money.
Northern Ireland manager Kenny Shiels was not surprised to hear that. At Northern Ireland’s press conference ahead of the game, he pointed out Dutch coaches traditionally do not change things in tournaments, especially if things are going well.
Wiegman, while managing her native Netherlands at Euro 2017, made just two changes for the team’s final group game having already qualified.
Shiels also said: "I can say this now we're out - I feel like they could go on and win the tournament. Most people feel that way. We will try our best to do something that our country can be proud of."
The Northern Ireland boss also hinted his team tonight will feature several experienced players as he feels throwing younger players in at the deep end against England could have an adverse effect on their careers.
England’s 8-0 demolition of Norway on Monday was the biggest winning margin in the competition’s history.
Head coach Wiegman has an array of riches at her disposal. For starters she has two world class strikers in Arsenal’s Beth Mead and Manchester City’s Ellen White.
Manchester City winger Lauren Hemp, Bayern Munich midfielder Georgia Stanway, Barcelona defender Lucy Bronze and the defensive pairing of captain Leah Williamson (Arsenal) and Millie Bright (Chelsea) have also shone brightly on the big stage this month.
Several of those players are now expected to play tonight, however those not in the starting eleven that dazzled against Norway would grace any team.
They include Manchester City trio Alex Greenwood, Chloe Kelly and Demi Stokes, Manchester United pair Alessia Russo and Ella Toone, Bethany England of Chelsea, Arsenal’s Nikita Parris and veteran midfielder Jill Scott, who is currently without a club. Scott has nearly 160 caps to her name.
It’s a daunting task for Northern Ireland, but one which the players are relishing as they say farewell to UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 and farewell to Southampton, which has been their welcoming ‘home’ for the best part of two weeks.