NI girls ramp up preparations for U19 Euros by hosting quality trio
Hosts Northern Ireland will warm up for next summer's Uefa European Women's Under-19 Championships by holding a mini-tournament across four venues, running from today until Sunday.
The Women's International Cup will consist of three days of round-robin games between four nations.
The games will be staged at the Ballymena Showgrounds today, Mourneview Park in Lurgan and Portadown's Shamrock Park on Thursday.
The final day of action will take place at Windsor Park on Sunday.
The tournament will see Northern Ireland's girls come up against three of the powerhouses of the women's game: USA, England and France.
The visiting teams will no doubt be arriving in Northern Ireland with extremely high expectations of themselves, with all three sides boasting impressive international track records.
The USA women's national team won the World Cup in Canada in 2015, with England collecting the bronze medal at the same tournament, results which are demonstrative of their commitment to supporting talent development in the women's game.
France are the current Uefa Women's U19 champions having secured the 2016 title in Slovakia by defeating 2015 runners-up Spain 2-1 in the final.
Both England and France have qualified for the Under-19 Championship finals 11 times, with England having won the title once in 2009 and France collecting the top prize four times.
The French side will surely provide the most challenging opposition of the tournament, fielding a squad that includes prolific striker Marie-Antoinette Katoto, who was the top goalscorer at the Under-19 finals this year, netting six in total.
Irish FA national women's coach Alfie Wylie (right) said: "This is a fantastic opportunity for our players to play against some of the best teams in the world.
"These three teams will undoubtedly be formidable opponents.
"It will be a great challenge to play them and we are very much looking forward to learning from the experience.
"It is still very early in our preparations in advance of next year's Uefa Championship finals, but it will be an excellent opportunity to show our players what they should expect in August 2017."
The tournament will act as a useful precursor to the Uefa European Women's Under-19 Championships which Northern Ireland will play host to next August.
Seven national teams, plus Northern Ireland who automatically qualify as hosts, will participate in the 16-day tournament at venues across the country.
It will be Northern Ireland's debut appearance in an Under-19 Women's Championship.
Irish FA Chief Executive Patrick Nelson has stated that the IFA have made a commitment to developing women's football and they hope the Under-19 Championships will act as a catalyst for growth in the game.
Women's International Cup fixtures
Today: England v United States (2.00pm) Ballymena Showgrounds; Northern Ireland v France (7.30pm) Ballymena Showgrounds.
Thursday: France v United States (12 noon) Mourneview Park (Lurgan); Northern Ireland v England (7.30pm) Shamrock Park (Portadown).
Sunday: France v England (12 noon) Windsor Park; United States v Northern Ireland (4.30pm) Windsor Park.