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Women's EURO team guide: Northern Ireland

Qualifying was already a sensation: can Northern Ireland cause more upsets in the finals?

Group A fixtures

Thursday 7 July
Norway vs Northern Ireland (21:00 CET, Southampton)

Monday 11 July
Austria vs Northern Ireland (18:00 CET, Southampton)

Friday 15 July
Northern Ireland vs England (21:00 CET, Southampton)

Women's EURO 2022 schedule

How they qualified: Group C runners-up (P8 W4 D2 L2 F17 A17), Play-off vs Ukraine W4-1agg (W2-1a, W2-0h)
Women's EURO best
: First qualification
Women's EURO 2017
: Did not qualify

Key player: Rachel Furness

She had to watch the critical second leg against Ukraine from the sidelines, crutches in hand, after breaking her ankle, but her goal before her injury in the away game was crucial to setting Northern Ireland on the way to a sensational qualification and underlined her status in the team. England-born and a stalwart in the upper divisions in that country, she became her nation's top scorer (men or women) last November and the Liverpool player was later presented with the BBC Northern Ireland Sports Personality of the Year award by Jürgen Klopp.

One to watch: Rebecca McKenna

The right-back made her senior Northern Ireland debut aged 17 in 2018 but her real breakthrough came with her performances in the play-off against Ukraine, the second-leg win last April on her 20th birthday. That has earned her a regular starting place and a club move to England.

Shiels on Northern Ireland's England test
Shiels on Northern Ireland's England test

Coach: Kenny Shiels

Taking over in May 2019 after long-time manager Alfie Wylie opted to concentrate on his role with the national women's youth teams, Shiels brought 30 years worth of top-level men's trophy-coaching experience in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Scotland, where his Kilmarnock side stunned Celtic in the 2012 League Cup final. He had to wait eight games for a first win withNorthern Ireland but then his side embarked on an incredible run that took them to a debut finals, Shiels hailing it the "best ever sporting achievement in the UK".

Women's EURO 2022: All you need to know

Tactics

As might be expected in a team with several part-time players facing world-class professionals, team spirit and an incredible work-rate have proved pivotal to Northern Ireland's rise, especially in the play-off with Ukraine when they were stricken by injuries to key talents. Shiels is flexible with formations, deploying 4-4-2, 4-5-1 and 3-4-3. Furness usually operates from central midfield with Simone Magill and Kirsty McGuiness in attacking roles, Lauren Wade out wide and the defence held together by Julie Nelson and Ashley Hutton.

Pedigree

Northern Ireland played their first game in 1973 but through the 1990s and early 2000s barely played, not even entering the Women's EURO between 1993 and 2005. Even since then their status was that of minnows; as recently as the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup qualifying they lost seven of their eight games. They were twice beaten 6-0 by Norway early in Women's EURO 2022 qualifying, which made their two draws against Wales and two victories against Belarus to finish second in their group already a big shock before they saw off Ukraine in the play-offs to reach their first final tournament.

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