Finally, the wait is over - England women get their chance to shine at Wembley

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Sarina Wiegman, manager of England, reacts during a training session at St Georges Park - GETTY IMAGES
Sarina Wiegman, manager of England, reacts during a training session at St Georges Park - GETTY IMAGES

Almost 100 years after the England men's football team first played at Wembley, Sarina Wiegman's Lionesses will line up for their first-ever competitive fixture at the 'Home of Football' on Saturday.

While Chelsea striker Beth England has spoken of the need to not get "hung up on the emotion" of the occasion and the crowd, you could forgive the players for getting caught up in what will be an historic occasion.

Northern Ireland are the visitors for the televised World Cup qualifier, in what will only be the seventh time the England women's side have played at Wembley - and only the third time since the stadium reopened in 2007.

England was an unused substitute the last time the Lionesses played at the national stadium, where a record attendance for a home British women's international - 77,768 fans - turned out for the 2-1 loss to Germany in November 2019. For the visit of Northern Ireland, around 30,000 tickets have been issued, with more expected to be sold on the day of the game.

“Wembley is Wembley, even being able to walk out of that tunnel into the stadium itself is phenomenal," England said. "But it’s very important we don’t get too high on emotions with the stadium and the crowd noise and everything, we’re ultimately here to do a job - there’s a good balance between excitement of being able to play on this wonderful pitch and knowing that we’re there to get a job done.”

The 27 year-old was in attendance for England men's European Champion semi-final extra-time win over Denmark this summer and had her appetite whetted for Saturday's fixture.

“That was probably one of the best games I’ve ever been to, if not the best game I’ve ever been to in my life; the crowd, the atmosphere, the whole day itself was phenomenal.”

Manchester United midfielder Katie Zelem, who also watched the men’s group-stage victory over the Czech Republic at Wembley, added: “The atmosphere there was incredible and seemed to grow and get better and better. I guess I’ve not really processed that yet, that I was sitting in the stand just a couple of months ago and now I’m going to be playing on the pitch, I think it’s incredible and for me, a real proud moment.

Raheem Sterling scores against Czech Republic at Euro 2020 - GETTY
Raheem Sterling scores against Czech Republic at Euro 2020 - GETTY

“It’s a huge stepping stone for us, and you can see what direction women’s football is going in. Playing in front of our friends, family and fans at Wembley is incredible, it’s something you dream of as a kid, and it being England’s first competitive game at Wembley makes it even more special for us.”

Zelem’s United team-mate Ella Toone, 22, added: “It’s huge, I’ve never played at Wembley before, so this is my first time, so it’s going to be even more special. The girls have spoken a lot about Wembley and how amazing it is, and I just can’t wait to step out onto the pitch. Going out into big stadiums and playing in front of big crowds, that’s what you dream of when you’re younger. I’m just going to embrace every moment I can and enjoy it.”

Saturday's match will be England’s third under their new head coach Sarina Wiegman, who has so far overseen huge wins over minnows North Macedonia (8-0) and Luxembourg (10-0) respectively in September.

Northern Ireland, who have qualified for next summer’s delayed Euros in England, have also won both of their World Cup qualifiers in Group D and are likely to offer the toughest test of Dutch coach Wiegman’s tenure so far, even though England were 6-0 winners when the two sides last met in a friendly at St George’s Park in February.

Arsenal’s Leah Williamson will captain England again, having skippered the team in September amid the absence of injured long-standing captain Steph Houghton, but Wiegman says she is “not close yet” to deciding her permanent captain, adding: “We haven’t had Steph [Houghton] and Lucy Bronze and the other ones [fit yet], so we’ll take a little time, and when everyone is fit, performs well and comes into the squad, I can see what’s best for the team, but for now, Leah is doing a very good job.”

The fixture will also be the first under the famous arch after clashes broke out between Hungary fans and police during England men's World Cup qualifier last week and Uefa hit the Football Association with a one-match, behind-closed doors punishment for the crowd disturbances at Wembley during the Euro 2020 final.

Asked if any additional or updated safety measures would be enforced for Saturday’s women’s international, a Wembley Stadium spokesperson told Telegraph Sport: “The safety and security of fans at Wembley Stadium is of paramount importance and we will have robust measures in place before, during and after the match.

“We always work closely with the Police and the relevant authorities to ensure that Wembley Stadium’s security protocols meet the highest standards."

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