LONDON : Northern Ireland may be making their first appearance at the Women’s European Championship this summer, but midfielder Rachel Furness insists they won’t be there to make up the numbers and believes they can reach the knockout stage.
Northern Ireland secured their place last year in a playoff win over Ukraine, becoming the lowest UEFA-ranked team (27th) to qualify for the tournament in England.
But despite their low ranking and inexperience in major tournaments, Liverpool’s Furness says they can navigate their way through Group A that includes England, Austria and Norway.
“I think we do have to be realistic, I’m not going to sit here and say we are going to win the group – and we are up against some of the best teams in Europe, in the world and in our group,” the 33-year-old told Reuters in a Zoom interview.
“But I think it’s a group that we have faced all the teams within the last two and a half years. So we’ve learned a lot from that… I think we have to go in with confidence that we can get out of the group… we believe in ourselves as a squad.”
Northern Ireland faced Austria and England this year in World Cup qualifying, losing 3-1 and 5-0 respectively.
However, Furness said the lessons learned from those defeats will stand them in good stead in July.
The Euro 2022 tournament was originally scheduled for last year but was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It will take place from July 6-31 with the final being held at the 90,000 capacity Wembley Stadium.
Organisers are hoping to set several attendance records at a Euros, but criticism from some players has been aimed at the inclusion of a number of smaller venues – four out of the 10 stadiums have less than 20,000 capacity.
Manchester City’s Academy Stadium will be limited to 4,700 for the tournament due to UEFA restrictions preventing the use of standing capacity.
Furness backed the organisers’ selection, however, and said a packed smaller stadium is better than a half empty bigger one.
“It is going to be a record breaking tournament, but I think it is finding the balance,” she said.
“I’m sure the tournament organizers have thought really hard about the capacities and the biggest stadiums, but wanting to create a great atmosphere for the tournament.”
Furness, speaking as an ambassador for the UEFA Euro 2022 digital mascot campaign which features educational videos and a tie in with the game Roblox, has already enjoyed success this year after helping Liverpool win the second-tier Championship and secure promotion back to the Women’s Super League.
It is one stage of a massive rebuild at Liverpool, who won back-to-back WSL titles in 2013 and 2014, but were relegated in 2020 in the shortened COVID campaign – and Furness hopes to remain in the team for a few more years yet.
“Fingers crossed, I have got another year left on my contract. But, I’ve got to earn more (playing time),” added Furness, who lifted the Championship trophy with her team mates on the final day of the season on Saturday.
“I’m realistic, I’m not getting any younger. I hope that I can finish my career at Liverpool in the top league. That’d be fantastic.”
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