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Northern Ireland almost seemed destined to draw England, believes Rachel Furness

Women’s Euro 2022 finals

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Northern Ireland captain Marissa Callaghan was named Sports Personality of the Year at the Ulster Tatler awards

Northern Ireland captain Marissa Callaghan was named Sports Personality of the Year at the Ulster Tatler awards

Rachel Furness at the Euro finals draw

Rachel Furness at the Euro finals draw

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Northern Ireland captain Marissa Callaghan was named Sports Personality of the Year at the Ulster Tatler awards

Northern Ireland midfielder Rachel Furness believes it was fate that her side ended up in the same group as England at next summers’s Uefa Women’s EURO England 2022 finals.

The Liverpool powerhouse will take on the country of her birth in Group A, as the two home nations were drawn alongside Austria and Norway.

Kenny Shiels’ Northern Ireland team will face the Lionesses on the third and final matchday at St Mary’s, Southampton on July 15 next summer.

Furness (33) was herself born in Sunderland, but represents Northern Ireland as her mother’s place of birth is Belfast.

And she said: “It is written in the stars I think.

“When the teams were getting drawn out me and my friend sitting next to me both said ‘we’re going to get England’.

“I think there has to be excitement now, realising we are going to playing in packed stadiums.

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“The pressure is going to be on the host nation, so the pressure is all on England really.

“We’ve got England and Austria in our World Cup qualifying group right now and at the start of Kenny’s reign we played Norway in his first game. We learnt so much from that match.

“I just think there is a real buzz going into it. Now we know who we’ve got, we can really start to focus and prepare.”

As well as the obvious headline clash against England, the challenge of facing Austria also won’t be underestimated by Furness and co.

The Austrians are 21st in the Fifa world rankings, but only a last minute goal prevented a Northern Ireland victory in the midweek meeting between the two sides, which finished 2-2.

Furness said: “Yeah that game gave us massive confidence. We were 60 seconds away from beating one of the best teams in Europe. You can’t take that too lightly. We will gain a lot of respect from other nations from that and show we aren’t just ‘another team’. “We are actually here to compete.”

Furness, who first represented the green and white army back in 2005, is also hopeful that her team’s reputation as outsiders could attract even more fanatical support.

She added: “We are the lowest ranked team, and I know when I watch football as a neutral, you always want the underdog to do well. So I hope we get a lot more fans supporting us. And that if they aren’t England fans, they are supporting the underdogs and backing Northern Ireland. I’d like to see a lot of converts!

“We are going to be fighting with the English fans to sell out the stadium. That would be the ideal situation.”

Although both teams ideally will have wanted to book knockout qualification in their first two games, Furness doesn’t believe that will have an impact on the clash which concludes the group.

She added: “Even if they are already through or not, they have great squad depth. Whatever team they put out will be very difficult to play against.

“But we’re just focusing on the first game and then want to bounce into the next one. “It is surreal, but it is great experience and exposure for Northern Ireland. Hopefully it helps put us on the women’s football map.”

The Uefa Women’s EURO England 2022 ticket ballot application window is now open and closes 16 November. For more information and to enter the public ballot for tickets, visit www.uefa.com/womenseuro/ticketing


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