Belfast Telegraph

World Cup 2018

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Northern Ireland women hoping to rattle the Dutch and silence 30,000 fans

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland boss Alfie Wylie will relish pitting his wits against the top coach on the planet in women's football tonight.

Wylie’s side are in Eindhoven for a World Cup qualifier against the Netherlands, who are led by the outstanding Sarina Wiegman.

The former Dutch international was last year named the FIFA Best Women’s Coach after guiding her country to European Championship glory in 2017.

Ahead of the game against Northern Ireland, Wiegman has had her contract extended until 2020 and is fully expected to lead the side to next year’s World Cup finals in France.

To be certain of that, the Netherlands, with the Republic of Ireland breathing down their necks, must win their qualifying group, which means defeating Wylie’s side.

Northern Ireland are currently fourth out of five in their section with three points gained from a 3-1 victory in Slovakia in November. Prior to that, Wylie’s women lost 4-1 in Norway and 2-0 at home to the Republic, who like the Dutch, have seven points from their opening three matches.

Just the top side in the World Cup groups are guaranteed qualifications so tonight’s clash between the Netherlands and Northern Ireland is being hyped up in Eindhoven to such a degree that the visitors will have to cope with 30,000 supporters dressed in orange.

With the men’s international team in Holland at a low ebb, there has been an increased interest in the women’s side with their success and Wiegman’s expert coaching being hailed across the nation.

The Netherlands will be big favourites this evening but Wylie intends sending his players out with a structure and system in the PSV Stadion to hopefully keep the European Champions quiet early on.

The Linfield coach is experienced enough to know that if his side concede early they could be in for a long night against a talented side, who are determined to show that they are well worth the new pay deal reached with their football federation.

Captain Marissa Callaghan will be a key performer for Northern Ireland while the experience of players like Julie Nelson and Ashley Hutton is sure to be crucial for the youngsters ahead of the 7pm start. Demi Vance, who has won over 50 caps, is back in the squad after a spell in Australia while Yasmin White, part of the panel in the UEFA Under-19 Championships, has also been drafted in.

Should Northern Ireland’s women avoid defeat it will be one of the best results in their history and a huge boost ahead of Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier versus Norway at Shamrock Park.

Belfast Telegraph

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