England face a home nations clash at next summer’s Women’s Euro 2022 after being drawn in a group with Northern Ireland. The hosts will play Kenny Shiels’s tournament debutants at Southampton’s St Mary’s Stadium in their final game of the stage.
The draw provided a very familiar feeling for England, who are in the same World Cup qualifying group as two of their opponents, Austria and Northern Ireland. They also face Norway, whom they defeated in the 2019 World Cup quarter-finals.
“It’s so nice,” said England’s head coach, Sarina Wiegman, of facing Northern Ireland. “I hope it’s going to be sold out. We’ve played them before of course – it’s an amazing stadium, too. It’s nice for everyone because we want to do well, we want to have our fans, but for Northern Ireland to have their fans too, it’s great.”
England face Austria next month in a World Cup qualifier and Northern Ireland in April, which could provide vital insight before the home tournament. England beat Shiels’s side 4-0 on Saturday, a sign of their superiority. “They are countries we know very well,” Wiegman said. “Austria and Northern Ireland are in our World Cup qualifying group and Norway I know very well because I’ve played them a lot with the Netherlands.”
There was a roar inside the Manchester Victoria Warehouse, a stone’s throw from Old Trafford, when Northern Ireland were drawn to play England, which irked Shiels. “English people were all cheering and roaring: ‘We’ve got Northern Ireland,’ as it’s an easy match for them,” he said. “But we’ve got to segregate the three games and give our best in the first game and then think about the second one and then the third.”
The reigning champions, the Netherlands, are in Group C, where they face arguably the best team from pot two, Sweden, who are second in the world rankings behind the US. Neither side will be particularly concerned by facing Switzerland and Russia in the section.
The eight-times winners Germany (once as West Germany) are joined in Group B by Spain, who are widely regarded as dark horses, Denmark and Finland. France and Italy will expect to get out of Group D, although Iceland and Belgium sit a respectable 16th and 19th in the world rankings respectively.
England lost in the Euro 2017 semi-finals to the Netherlands, who were led to their home triumph by Wiegman, an experience England hope will influence their campaign.
Manchester United’s 76,000-capacity stadium, Old Trafford, will be the venue when England open the tournament against Austria on 6 July. Wiegman’s side will then face their trickiest game on paper against Norway on 11 July at Brighton. England will be anticipating safe passage to the knockout stages, where the teams progressing from Group A will meet the qualifiers from the tough-looking Group B.
“Buy tickets!” Wiegman said. “The opening game is going to be massive. When the crowd is there, they will be our 12th woman behind us. We just want the fans to help us put in a great performance.”
As hosts there is a certain level of expectation for England and they will be looking to replicate the men’s achievements of last summer by making it to a Wembley final, even if 31 July seems a long way off. England have twice been runners-up at the European Championship, in 1984 and 2009.
More than 150,000 tickets were sold in a pre-ballot sale and Uefa is hoping for a significant further uptake, not least for the home nations game in Southampton.