by Johnathan Stack at St. George’s Park (5/9/22)
Above: Lionesses’ Keira Walsh and head coach Sarina Wiegman at today’s media conference at St. George’s Park. Photo: Johnathan Stack for Impetus.
With World Cup qualification secured, the Lionesses head to Stoke-on-Trent for what is being described as a homecoming celebration.
Around 30,000 fans will descend on a sold-out Stoke City Stadium, in what will be England’s first home game since winning the UEFA Euro 2022 final and being crowned European champions.
With a brilliant 2-0 away victory in Austria on Saturday, thanks to goals from Alessia Russo and Nikita Parris confirming England as Group D winners, tomorrow night’s match will be the final game of FIFA Women’s World Cup qualifying against Luxembourg.
Speaking on Russo starting in the number nine role against Austria, England manager Sarina Wiegman said: “We talk a lot about principles and how we want to create chances and score goals, and you want your players who can score goals the best to be in the best position at the moment the ball comes in front of goal. We really wanted Alessia to be in and around the 18-yard box when the ball gets there.
“Once in a while you go into the corner because that’s the solution for that moment, you have to do it. But you’re starting task is a little closer to the centre of the pitch. Dropping deep sometimes can absolutely be a solution if you want to get an overload or something but then someone else needs to make the run in behind.”
After the game, Wiegman was greeted by travelling England fans, and she spent time signing autographs while they chanted her name. It was an experience that she greatly valued. “It’s nice, it is absolutely nice. I think it’s all about the players. When they perform well, I’m doing well too. We work together, we work as a team. It’s always about the team but it’s nice, first of all, that the people come to Austria to watch us, they come to the stadium to cheer for us, and part I’m just part of what they cheer for.”
And even with the pressure off the Lionesses, Sarina Wiegman expects a similar result so the reverse fixture which saw England win 10-0 in the Stade de Luxembourg almost a year ago.
With the match tomorrow being the first home match since the Euros success, Wiegman reflected on the incredible support that she feels that the team has from the public: “It’s really exciting and the support we have had has been great in the Euro’s and they keep coming now, so tomorrow it will be 30,000 coming to watch and we really want to show again our game and make a celebration and have a nice football game.
“This team is so eager to do well. Playing Luxembourg and it’s all done in the qualification, but we also have 30,000 people coming to watch us and that’s really exciting. As seen in training sessions and in the game played on Saturday, it’s so sharp and at such a good level, the team just wants to train and do well and do well every day in every moment that we get. I expect a very energetic team that really wants to show and with lots of goals and of course conceding none.”
With Group D done and dusted, the Lionesses head coach is expected to ring the changes with players itching to stake a claim in the starting 11 tomorrow night. Wiegman explained: “We still have one training session to do. Every player coming in very differently you might expect some changes.
“We are reviewing every game all the time, we’re reviewing what we did in camp and in training sessions on the pitch. This game will be a lot in possession, not the highest level, of course, it’s always an opportunity to show yourself and they are always competing here, competing in training and in games and also as competing at your club and as Keira (Walsh) said showing consistency in your own game for your team and getting minutes at your club which will give us all the information, we need to make the right choices.”
Also, in the press conference sat alongside Sarina Wiegman, was Keira Walsh, player of the match against Austria. The Manchester City midfielder is set to receive her 50th cap for England tomorrow: “If I’m in the team it’s exciting, when I was younger, I didn’t think I’d ever get to 50 caps for my country. I’ve still not even had time to reflect on the Euros so much because we’re straight back into it but I’m sure after the game probably sit down with my family at some point and reminisce on my journey in football.”
Walsh also spoke of her emotions on clinching qualification for next summer’s World Cup: “I don’t think it was a relief, I think we look forward to those sorts of games, we want to be playing in World Cup qualifiers. Austria is a good team and had a great Euros as well. We are confident in our own abilities, and we played a good game. It was just exciting to be back together after the Euros and get playing with each other again.”
Given the amazing celebrations from the Lionesses after the UEFA Euro 2022 final Walsh was asked whether the team celebrated after the game on Saturday evening: “I think it was difficult, with us being in different places in terms of club and stuff some of the girls had to go and train after the game, so we were kind of separated a little bit. But we came back to the hotel together and had post-match which was nice, (but) there were definitely muted celebrations compared to the Euros.”
Either way, there will definitely be celebrations after the full-time whistle tomorrow night which will bring the curtain down on an incredible summer not just for England but an incredible summer for women’s football in general, but up first can the Lionesses do it on a cold, wet and windy night in Stoke?