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Northern Ireland v England: 'Special' to play at sold-out Windsor Park – Callaghan

Northern Ireland captain Marissa Callaghan and England skipper Leah Williamson
England are top of qualifying group D while Northern Ireland sit in third place with three games remaining
Women’s World Cup qualifier: Northern Ireland v England
Venue: Windsor Park, Belfast Date: Tuesday, 12 April Kick-off: 19:55 BST
Coverage: Live on BBC Two and live (text and watch) coverage on the BBC Sport website and app.

Northern Ireland captain Marissa Callaghan says Tuesday’s 2023 Women’s World Cup qualifier with England is likely to be “emotional”.

The game will take place in front of a sold-out crowd of 16,000 at Windsor Park – a record for a women’s match in the country.

“The occasion is going to be really special for everyone,” said Callaghan.

Northern Ireland’s World Cup hopes are slim, but England can all but secure their spot at the finals with victory.

Callaghan, 36, added: “It will mean a lot to the squad, especially the players who have been here from the beginning – to see the transformation in the game. It fills us with so much pride.”

Group D qualifying
England are yet to lose a game in qualifying
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‘We have got to feel we have a chance’

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Northern Ireland’s chances of reaching a maiden World Cup are all but over following their 3-1 defeat by Austria on Friday night, which leaves Kenny Shiels’ side third, three points behind their play-off rivals and also on head-to-head.

They would need to beat England and hope Austria drop points against Latvia but, with the pressure off, Callaghan feels her players will be able to express themselves.

“We are going to go out and enjoy the occasion,” added the Cliftonville midfielder.

“We have put in the preparation about what we have to do and from number one to 23 we will all be ready to step on the pitch.”

Manager Shiels, who has guided Northern Ireland to a maiden major tournament in the form of Euro 2022, said playing England was a chance to learn for this summer’s finals.

“In terms of the atmosphere and what it means for the girls, to be playing in their hometown in the National Stadium – it is a great one for the girls to look forward to.

“We have got to feel we have a chance. We want to play at the top level against the top level – and then learn from it.

“Having the crowd here will help, but we can’t depend on that, we have to look at how we can play.”

Shiels has a full compliment of players to choose for the visit of the Lionesses, with the majority of his squad made up of the 22 full-time domestic-based players who are in a seven-month professional camp for the Euro 2022 finals.

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‘They are a serious contender in any game’

England remain unbeaten in qualifying – having scored 63 goals without reply – and they head to Windsor Park off the back of a 10-0 thrashing over North Macedonia.

The last meeting with Northern Ireland at Wembley Stadium in September ended in a 4-0 victory for England, but captain Leah Williamson said the hosts have “raised their game” since then.

“They are a serious contender in any game they play,” she added.

“The qualification for the Euros is just another example of that and hopefully they take that forward. I think the sell-out crowd [at Windsor Park] speaks for itself.”

The two sides face each other in the group stages of the European Championship too – and Williamson described Tuesday’s game as a “practice run” for that.

Manager Sarina Wiegman is also expecting a hostile crowd in Belfast which will provide a challenge for the Lionesses, who are expected to name a side mixed with youth and experience.

“This event will be big and the crowd will be against us and not for us, I’m really looking forward to it,” said Wiegman.

“[Northern Ireland] have to win if they have a chance to qualify [for the World Cup]. We want to win to get closer.”

England lead the group by five points with three games remaining, and will be within touching distance of automatic qualification if they beat Shiels’ side.

They will be without midfielder Jill Scott but Williamson will start having missed Friday’s victory due to concussion.

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