Kenny Shiels has urged Northern Ireland to “eliminate” the gulf in stature between his side and England from their thoughts when they tackle the Lionesses in their final match of Euro 2022 on Friday.
Northern Ireland are out of their first major tournament after successive 4-1 and 2-0 defeats to Norway and Austria respectively but will be playing for pride against the host nation in Southampton.
Shiels’ side have come up against the Lionesses on three occasions since the beginning of 2021, beaten 6-0, 4-0 and 5-0 over the course of the encounters – the last of which was at home.
However, the Northern Ireland manager insists his team will have to look beyond England’s higher standing in the game when the sides meet at St Mary’s.
Shiels said: “When we played them (in February 2021), I took a friendly. I was told not to. Mad in the head, but I took the friendly against England at St George’s Park and I was so angry because the girls were signing their autographs after the match.
“The stature of England, we’ve got to try and eliminate that from our thoughts and we’ve got to try and play the team rather than the occasion.
“It’s a big occasion for our girls to play in a full house like this and we want to do our best, and if we give our best then we can’t have any complaints. We don’t want to leave anything behind.
“This is the culmination of our Euros finals and we want to leave on a feel-good and certainly we’ve been trying to do that.”
Northern Ireland’s women’s team was disbanded in the late 1990s and only resumed playing matches again in 2004 – a stark contrast to the Lionesses.
Northern Ireland captain Marissa Callaghan explained the gulf between the two sides in terms of funding and professionalism.
“Listen, we have to relish this challenge,” she said. “We know that England are one of the top teams in the world and they’re seasoned pros.
“We have 13 players from an Irish League who are amateurs. We get up in the morning and we go to work, we train in the evening. It’s night and day in comparison to what their preparation has been.
“We have a good mix of young players and experienced players, as do they, but it’s just that our journeys have been very different.
“But we’re here and the preparation has been amazing as always and we’ll go out there and do our best, can’t give anything else but that and we’ll enjoy it.
“The fans have been amazing and it has brought tears to many players’ eyes and it’ll be the same tomorrow, so hopefully we can give them something to cheer about.”
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