Northern Ireland women make historic Euros debut against Norway in Southampton

Northern Ireland captains Marissa Callaghan and Nadene Caldwell head onto the St Mary's Stadium pitch in Southampton for a training session ahead of tonight’s UEFA Women’s Euros match against Norway. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye
Kenny Archer in Southampton

Euro 2022: Northern Ireland v Norway (St Mary's Stadium, Southampton, 8pm)

Kenny Archer in Southampton

'A club built on faith from the very beginning.'

From that description, displayed en route to the St Mary's stadium, Southampton is probably an apt setting for Northern Ireland Women's debut at a major international tournament.

The Girls in Green are a team built on faith from the very beginning'. Manager Kenny Shiels had that faith, had the belief, and transmitted those qualities to his players. And here they are.

'I want to be in that number…'

It's been said plenty of times, but it remains remarkable that Northern Ireland, still only ranked 28th among European teams, have marched onto this finals stage.

Sure, it's almost certain that they'll go no further.

Southampton, of course, is also the destination from which the Titanic departed on its ill-fated attempt to cross the Atlantic Ocean 110 years ago.

However, Shiels put their progress in perspective. Skilfully sidestepping a question about targets for this tournament, he replied: "The first part of our success was getting here. The second part is being here. So that's our pathway at the moment - and the third one will be getting better…

"That's the sequence, that's all we can be: as good as we can be. If we become better at the end of it, and the girls have a good time, then we've achieved an awful lot."

The boss was obviously pleased to have his captain Marissa Callaghan sitting alongside him, after concerns that a toe injury might prevent her from playing:

"Obviously our medical people keep saying 'Take care of Marissa' but there's no holding her back and she's been unbelievable in the past three weeks in particular. There's something inside her to make sure she'd be here and I love to see people like that be successful."

Norway, with the attacking talent of Ada Hegerberg back in their team, along with Barcelona forward Caroline Graham Hansen, will be aiming to repeat the two 6-0 defeats they inflicted on NI in Euro qualifying, with one of those in the first competitive match in charge for Shiels, at Seaview less than three years ago.

Northern Ireland have faith that, having got here, they can show they're better than that.