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Julie Nelson: Northern Ireland's Euro opponents have a head start after swift return to action

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Julie Nelson

Julie Nelson

William Cherry/Presseye

Julie Nelson

Northern Ireland centurion Julie Nelson believes that their Women's Euro qualification hopes now rest on when the players get the green light to take to the field again.

While Belarus and the Faroe Islands, who Kenny Shiels' team will face in must-win games in the autumn, are now playing, the Covid-19 crisis has meant none of the Northern Ireland players have kicked a ball since they played in the Pinatar Cup in Spain back in March.

With the Euro finals pushed back 12 months from 2021 after the cancellation of the April and June qualifiers, UEFA announced the dates for the rearranged games this week

Northern Ireland, who are well placed to close the six-point gap on Wales and take second place in their group behind Norway, will travel to the Faroes in September and Belarus in October before finishing off with a home double header against the same teams.

The schedule couldn't have been much kinder but, without knowing when they can play again, Nelson, who has 109 caps to her name, can't look ahead with the confidence she would like to.

"The Faroe Islands league started up last weekend because they only had a brief lockdown and Belarus didn't have any lockdown at all and they've been playing since the end of April. That makes it more difficult," she says.

"We're still looking at these as four winnable games, but we have the added thing of us having to train individually and they are training with their teams and playing games.

"We have to abide by the guidelines and in the government plan that was set out it was stage four or five that you can play competitive contact sport.

"Hopefully we are at that stage by August and, if our domestic season in Northern Ireland can start up, we can get some games under our belt.

"If teams are training and playing regularly and we aren't able to, then it gives them an advantage in terms of their preparation.

"The other side of it is that in England, the plan is to start again at the end of August as usual, so they will hopefully be back in season and the Scottish league is possibly looking at running their season the same as the men, so we could be in a better position down the line and we are all playing competitive games in our leagues, which would set us up better."

Belfast Telegraph