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Ending England’s perfect run is Kenny Shiels’ new target after admitting Northern Ireland’s World Cup dreams are over


Northern Ireland manager Kenny Shiels

Northern Ireland manager Kenny Shiels

Northern Ireland manager Kenny Shiels

Kenny Shiels has made a frank admission on the eve of the most high-profile women’s international ever to be played in Northern Ireland.

After losing 3-1 to Austria last Friday night, Shiels accepts that World Cup qualification dreams are now over.

That, however, won’t stop him from doing all he can to ruin England’s 100 per cent record in front of a record-breaking crowd of 16,000 at Windsor Park tonight.

Defeat in what Shiels and his squad branded a ‘must-win’ game in Wiener Neustadt put Austria three points ahead of Northern Ireland with three games to go, meaning any realistic qualification hopes hinge on pulling off a shock result against the Lionesses, who have won all seven games so far in Group D.

“This is not a must-win game because qualification is out of the equation,” said a brutally honest Shiels.

“If we win by five goals that would be different, but we are being realistic and we’re not expecting that to happen.

“If we were to beat England, it would be an unbelievable achievement in itself in isolation to the group.

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“Friday night against Austria was a great game of football, I also think that the girls will have learned a lot in that game.”

Despite his admission that World Cup hopes are all but over, Shiels did take a great deal from the defeat in Austria.

Similar to the 4-0 loss to England at Wembley when all four goals came within a 14-minute spell after Northern Ireland had held out for over an hour, the three Austria goals came inside nine minutes and in between the first two was when Northern Ireland had their best spell.

That is why, despite England being unbeaten in qualifiers for almost two decades, they don’t hold any fear for Shiels.

“England only scored one at home to Austria and we scored one away to Austria. We’re as good as them then, aren’t we?” Shiels said with a smile.

“We can’t look upon them as some almighty team. They are at a further stage of their progress than what we are, obviously. It is England that we are playing and we are aware of all the things that come with that. If we give our best we have no issues, no issues at all.

“We have played seven games in this tournament, three of them against Austria twice and England and in only one of those games have we conceded a goal in the first half, so the organisation of what we do is to set up like that — especially against the Austrians and Englands of this world — so that we are organised and in a good structure not to concede and from there we try to get our noses in front.

“Sometimes we do it, sometimes we don’t, so within the methodology of our game we have fulfilled so much. The game we did concede in the first-half at home to Austria, but away to Austria and England we were 0-0 at half time and that gave us a platform to go out and play in the second half. There is a lot of work that goes into that.

“We changed at half time in Austria, wanting to go out and get at them, but we didn’t allow for mistakes.

“There were three mistakes, the first one was a corner kick, we didn’t get locked on and the girl tried to flick it on and it went into the net.

“We had more chances than them. We had more shots at goal. I know that means nothing, but it gives us a little bit of an indication that the girls have done remarkably well against a team like Austria.”

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