05/02/2010

World Cup Kick Off For Soccer Ladies

The Northern Ireland senior women's football team will turn out next month at Windsor Park in a vital international match, writes Natalie McCullough.

They will take on France in a 2011 World Cup Qualifier, which is actually a 'double header' with the away game on Saturday March 27th and the return fixture at Windsor Park on the 31st. It is the first time the team (pictured) will have played in the national stadium.

"I'm delighted for the girls, for getting an opportunity like this and excited, about the prospect of playing at Windsor Park," said National Women's Coach, Alfie Wylie. "There's also an element of pride in it as an international coach, watching his side play in such a venue."

In all previous outings, the squad has played their matches in other club grounds around Northern Ireland because their matches have often clashed with the senior men's games, Linfield home fixtures and the various cup ties, played at Windsor Park.

However, careful planning at the start of the season has granted the women's side this opportunity.
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The games against France, mark the third and fourth of Northern Ireland's 10 World Cup qualifiers.

Winning away in Croatia and losing at home to Iceland, Alfie is confident about the upcoming matches.

"We can't deny that this is a tough group. Both France and Iceland are ranked in the top 10 in Europe.

"However, the average age of the teams we have played and will play, is between 26 and 30," he said.

"The average age of our squad is just 20 years and six months. The girls have so much they can learn from this campaign and we haven't set the bar too high."

Playing at Windsor Park is an indication of just how far women's football in Northern Ireland is progressing.

"The girls are relishing this opportunity and irrespective of the result, it is a chance for us to measure ourselves against a top quality side like France.

"It also reflects the levels of interest in women's football today. It shows that we can be taken seriously at international level, by hosting France in a venue like Windsor Park," added Alfie.

As part of their preparation for the upcoming World Cup Qualifiers, the team will take on Wales on February 24 at the Oval, kick-off 4pm.

(BMcC/GK)

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