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Friday 31 May 2024
Northern Ireland Women face tough test against Portugal

Northern Ireland’s senior women’s team will be the underdogs when they face Portugal in a UEFA Women’s Euro 2025 qualifier this evening.

It will be a huge test for Tanya Oxtoby’s side in Leiria when they take on a side more than 20 places above them in the world rankings.

However, Oxtoby (pictured) is confident her players can put in a good performance at Estádio Dr Magalhães Pessoa (8.45 start BST).

The senior women’s team boss says her squad are excited for part one of a tough double header against Portugal which will conclude with a home game against the Portuguese on Tuesday (4 June) at Mourneview Park in Lurgan.

Portugal are the top seeds in League B Group 3, while Northern Ireland are the third seeds. And the Portuguese are 21st in the FIFA Coca-Cola Women’s World Ranking compared to Northern Ireland in 46th.

Northern Ireland registered a 0-0 home draw with Malta and a 3-1 away win against second seeds Bosnia and Herzegovina last month as they got their B3 campaign under way.

"I think we are going to learn a lot about ourselves (against Portugal)," Oxtoby told the media yesterday.

"We’ve dominated games in this group so far in terms of possession, but I think we are going to be under the pump without the ball in these two games. I’m really excited to see how we take on this challenge."

At last summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand the Portuguese narrowly missed out on reaching the knockout stages.

In Group E they defeated Vietnam 2-0 and drew 0-0 with the United States. In their opening group game they lost 1-0 to the Netherlands, who eventually topped the group with seven points. The US, with five points, finished runners-up and progressed to the round of 16 along with the Dutch.

Like Oxtoby’s Northern Ireland panel, Portugal’s squad is a blend of youth and experience. And there’s lots of experience.

Seven members of their squad play for Lisbon-based Benfica, while four come from another famous Portuguese club, Sporting of Lisbon, and another four from Braga.

Sporting forward Diana Silva (29) has 103 caps and 21 goals to her name, while club mate Ana Borges (33) has scored 11 goals in 171 international appearances. She operates at the back.

Benfica defender Carole Costa, aged 34, has netted 22 times in earning 165 caps and 29-year-old Benfica striker Jessica Silva has notched 17 goals in 111 games.

Another experienced operator is goalkeeper Patricia Morais (31). The Braga netminder has played 91 times for her country. And her Braga team-mate Caroline Mendes, aged 36, is the top scorer in the squad on 24 goals (121 caps).

Braga midfielder Dolores Silva (29) is another player with huge international experience (160 caps, 17 goals), while 27-year-old midfielder Andreia Norton (Benfica) has 85 international appearances under her belt.

A handful of Francisco Neto’s squad play their club football outside Portugal. They include Sevilla defender Diana Gomes (25), who has been capped 47 times, and defender Joana Marchao, who is with Swiss side Servette. The 27-year-old has notched three goals across 45 senior international games.

The more youthful members of the Portugal Women squad include lively midfielder Kika Nazareth. The 21-year-old Benfica player has already earned 37 senior caps and scored seven goals for her country.

Maritimo Da Madeira forward Telma Encarnacao (22) has 33 caps and seven goals and 21-year-old Real Sociedad midfielder Andreia Jacinto has played for the Portuguese senior women’s team on 37 occasions to date.

Earlier this week Oxtoby insisted: “The pressure is not on us. Portugal are more than 20 places above us in the FIFA rankings, so I believe the pressure is squarely on them.

“We are going to go out and really enjoy the occasion (in Leiria) and try to put in a really good performance.”