Playing a game with nothing at stake can be demeaning, but for Northern Ireland it will be a moment to relish. They will bow out of their debut European Championship against the hosts, England, at a sold-out St Mary’s on Friday. Despite the outcome it will not be a tournament to forget.
“We can’t go out just not to lose,” Northern Ireland’s head coach, Kenny Shiels, said. “We have to try and win a game of football. We will do our best to try and curtail what they have to offer. We have to have a purpose and we have to try to win.”
Northern Ireland are already confined to finishing bottom of Group A, while England go into this meeting of home nations as group winners. Shiels spoke highly of the opposition and tipped them for further success.
He said: “Now that we’re out I can say it, but [England] could go on and win the tournament. But we will try our best to do something that our country can be proud of. We’ve got to try and eliminate the stature of England from our thoughts and play the team rather than the occasion.
“We don’t want to leave anything behind. This is the culmination of our journey at the finals and we want to leave on a feelgood and we’ll certainly be trying to do that.”
Shiels’s side can proudly reflect on their campaign. Julie Nelson’s consolation strike against Norway will always be remembered as Northern Ireland’s first goal at a major women’s tournament and Marissa Callaghan holds the honour of captaining the team to the Euros.
“It’s been an incredible experience and one that I definitely won’t forget,” Callaghan said. “I’ve learned a lot about myself. Getting to lead your country out at a major tournament has definitely been a massive high.”
Northern Ireland will bow out not defined by their farewell to the tournament but by the bright future ahead for the country’s football. As for the message to the players, for Callaghan it is simple.
“Just go out and enjoy every minute of it,” she said. “It’s been an incredible experience and what better way to finish it off than against one of the best nations in England. We can go out and give a really good account of ourselves, make our fans, family and everyone at home proud.”