Kenny Shiels: Northern Ireland looking to ‘lay down a marker’ in North Macedonia

Boss Kenny Shiels says Northern Ireland Women are looking to “lay down a marker” heading into their World Cup qualifying double-header against North Macedonia.

Thursday, 25th November 2021, 9:00 am

The sides meet in Skopje on Thursday and then again on Monday at Seaview in Belfast as Shiels’ team continue their Group D campaign.

They are currently third in the pool with seven points from four games, three behind second-placed Austria, while England are a further two points ahead at the top.

After beating Luxembourg and Latvia at home, Northern Ireland last month lost 4-0 to England at Wembley, then drew 2-2 with the Austrians at Seaview, only being denied victory by a stoppage-time equaliser.

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Northern Ireland Women's manager Kenny Shiels. Pic PA

Shiels told a press conference ahead of Thursday’s match: “We want to go there and lay down a marker and show the two teams that’s above us in the group that we’re wounded but we’re not down yet.

“We lost to one of them and drew with the other. We’re up for the fight and the girls are determined to show that.”

North Macedonia – fifth in the group with three points – are 131st in FIFA’s world rankings, 83 spots below Northern Ireland. They lost 8-0 away to England, and then 6-0 at home to Austria, then won 4-1 in Latvia before losing 3-2 at home to Luxembourg last time out.

Shiels added: “Our supporters and all the people around the women’s game need to know it’s going to be a really tough game. We will go out to win, and hopefully we can carry that out.

“I think if we start thinking six (points) before we get three, then it could be a bit foolhardy.

“The focus is on three, and then after that we have another focus, so that we compartmentalise the next game. That’s what we’re doing. The next game is away, where we’re at here now in Skopje, and after that we’ll look at the next match.

“We have players here that are ready to go and we can’t wait. We had a good session this morning again where you could feel the energy, it was good, and you want that to be carried into the game.

“That’s a big thing for us, the preparation of our team, and how we can get ourselves ready for a game where we know we have got to win.”

The two matches conclude a year for Northern Ireland Women which included making history in April, when they qualified for a major tournament finals for the first time, overcoming Ukraine in a play-off to reach next summer’s England-hosted Euros.

Reflecting on the year, Shiels said: “The girls have gone from strength to strength. They’ve improved, and they are still improving.

“When you draw with Austria, who were beaten semi-finalists on penalties in the last Euros, you have to say that is a remarkable result.

“We drew with them in a crucial game, and it tells you a lot about this bunch of players, that they’re able to match up to some of the best players in Europe and beyond.”

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