Furness relishing Lionesses challenge

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 Furness relishing Lionesses challenge
Furness relishing Lionesses challenge

STAR midfielder Rachel Furness expects Green and White as far as the eye can see when her squad play England at St Mary's at next summer’s Euros.

Northern Ireland, ranked 48th in the world, drew the Lionesses to rousing cheers at a glitzy draw in Manchester.

It whets the appetite for July’s hot-ticket event hosted by England, which will see the continent’s top women’s football squads compete for a record £13.7m in prize money.

For the first time, that elite group of 16 teams includes Northern Ireland, who will play all their group stage fixtures at Southampton’s St Mary’s Stadium, kicking off their campaign against Norway on July 7 before the big clash on July 15.

“We are going to be fighting with the English fans to sell out the stadium. That would be the ideal situation,” said the 30-year-old midfielder.

“We’re the lowest-ranked team, and I know when I watch football as a neutral you always want the underdog to do well.

“The Northern Ireland fans are already putting plans in place to get over I hope, so I hope we get a lot more fans supporting us.

“And that if they aren’t England fans they’re supporting the underdogs and backing Northern Ireland—I’d like to see a lot of converts!”

Furness lauded the guidance of Kenny Shiels, who took over the manager’s role in 2019 and signed a contract extension in April.

The measured Magherafelt man, 65, began his career at Bridgend United with stints at clubs including Tobermore United, Distillery and Carrick Rangers.

He acknowledged the uphill battle his team will face heading into a group that also includes 12th-ranked Norway and Austria, who sit 27 places above his side in FIFA’s world rankings, but was optimistic about their chances.

UEFA Euro 2022 draw
UEFA Euro 2022 draw

“The happiest people here tonight are the English, Norweigans and Austrian - they've got us,” he said.

“The English people are cheering saying 'we've got Northern Ireland' and it's an easy match for them, but we've got to try and do our best in the first game, and then think about the second one, then think about the third.”

Shiels' semi-professional outfit will soon get a huge boost, with plans to exponentially boost training time ahead of the tournament.

“We're trying to go full time for five to six months. It's hard to do because we've got a part-time league running alongside it," he said.

"We're going to try and it might bring the gap in a little bit and England will be afraid of us then!

“It's fantastic - we really do appreciate it. The government and the IFA are right behind us. It's the only thing the government's agreed on!”

The UEFA Women’s EURO England 2022 ticket ballot application window is now open and closes 16 November. For more information and to enter the public ballot for tickets, visit www.uefa.com/womenseuro/ticketing

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