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Friday 01 Dec 2023
Albania game is a must-win for Northern Ireland Women

Northern Ireland senior women’s team manager Tanya Oxtoby has urged her players to be “more clinical” as they prepare to face Albania Women today.

Back in September Northern Ireland defeated the Albanians by a goal to nil at Seaview in their second game in the inaugural UEFA Women’s Nations League.

Today’s match at Arena Kombetare in Tirana (4pm GMT start) is the penultimate fixture for both countries in four-team League B Group 1.

Northern Ireland need to win as they push to finish second in a group which has already been won by the Republic of Ireland, their opponents in their final B1 match at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park on Tuesday.

Hungary are second in the group table with five points from four games, while Northern Ireland are third with four points from four. Albania are propping up the table with one point.

If Northern Ireland finish second in the group they will face a play-off for a place in League A in the European Qualifiers phase of the Women’s Nations League, however if they finish third they will face a play-off to remain in League B and they will be relegated to League C if they finish last.

The Republic, who have a 100% record from their four games to date, are due to take on the Hungarians in Dublin later today and Oxtoby will be hoping they can do Northern Ireland a favour. Hungary’s final game will see them take on Albania at home on Tuesday.

However, Northern Ireland need to take care of their own business – and the manager is acutely aware of that.

Oxtoby said: “We know what we need to do. We know that we need to get a result from the game. That pressure is something that we are leaning in to.”

The Northern Ireland manager said they will not be taking Albania lightly, noting that their strengths include strong counter attacking.

She further said: “We need to be a little more clinical. We created some really good chances the last time we played them but we didn’t put those away and it was probably a closer game than we would have liked.

“We need to make sure we are ruthless when we get into good finishing positions. It’s going to be a good challenge for us and the pressure is on us to try and get a result.”

Oxtoby revealed the squad have trained well this week, and praised the three new faces, Linfield Women striker Keri Halliday, Crusaders Strikers goalkeeper Maddy Harvey-Clifford and Crusaders Strikers defender Rachel McLaren, for seamlessly fitting in to the group.

The talismanic Rachel Furness is out of both upcoming games after injuring her hamstring while playing for Bristol City Women in the FA Women’s Super League last month.

However, there are no other injury concerns ahead of the encounter against the Albanians.

In September Northern Ireland lost their first ever match in the UEFA Women’s Nations League – 3-0 to the Republic in Dublin – before bouncing back to defeat the Albanians.

In October they lost to Hungary away (3-2) and drew 1-1 with them at home.

The majority of the players in the Albania squad play their club football in their own country, mainly for Shkoder-based KFF Vllaznia.

However, they have a couple of players who play in stronger leagues in Europe, most notably striker Kristina Maksuti, who is with German Frauen-Bundesliga side SV Meppen. And midfielder Alma Hilaj plays for FC Como in Italy’s top flight.

Today’s game is being screened live on the BBC iPlayer and the BBC Sport NI website.