Houghton and White React to ‘Exciting’ World Cup Qualifying Draw

Getty Images/Marc Atkins

England captain Steph Houghton and vice-captain Ellen White have had their say on the draw for 2023 World Cup qualifying. The qualifiers will be incoming manager Sarina Wiegman’s first chance to take charge of the team. England find themselves in a group with Austria, North Macedonia, Latvia, Luxembourg, and neighbours Northern Ireland. The tournament itself will feature 32 teams, 11 of them European, and will take place in Australia and New Zealand.

Speaking to EnglandFootball.org, Houghton dismissed the idea that her team will find it hard to concentrate against the group’s lower-ranked sides. “The way that the world is at the moment, I don’t think that we can ever be in that mindset,” she said. “For me as a player and a captain, I certainly will not be letting my teammates think that we’ve qualified already when the draw’s just been made. That’s not how we work.

“As a team we respect any opponent that we come against. Whether they’re ranked in the top ten in the world or 100th, we need to be on it. For us as professional athletes, it’s about us performing and giving the sport the respect it deserves. Ultimately, the aim is to qualify out the group and be top of the group, and we don’t hide away from that. The expectation is to go and qualify for every major tournament over the last few years, and this one is no different.”

The Manchester City skipper feels qualifying matches can offer valuable competitive experience to the Lionesses’ up-and-coming stars. “It’s important that as a group we all get exposed to a competitive environment and competitive games. Obviously, we haven’t played that many [competitive games] over the last year or so because of COVID and lockdown. But ultimately, whether they’re young players or older players, I think we all have to experience being under pressure and trying to go and get a result. For these younger players, to be able to experience a qualification process and know that the pressure’s on to go and win, it’s going to be great for them personally, but [also] for England in the future.”

For City and England striker Ellen White, this group offers some personal nostalgia. “Making my [senior England] debut against Austria and scoring on my debut brings back some amazing memories. A long time ago, but some great memories! And [against] Northern Ireland, scoring my first [England] hat-trick was an amazing dream for me as well.”

While it’s goals against those sides that White remembers the encounters for, she is also aware of the threat that Austria and Northern Ireland, in particular, pose to England. “It’s exciting to play these types of teams,” White admits. “Austria are improving, developing, and getting better and better. So, it’ll be a really interesting game against them. And facing a home nation team again will be great as well.”

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England’s first match since the pandemic, and their first under the management of caretaker boss Hege Riise following Phil Neville’s departure, was a comprehensive 6-0 win over the Northern Irish at St George’s Park in February. But since then, Northern Ireland have qualified for a sensational first ever major tournament in the form of next year’s Euros hosted in England, while the Lionesses slumped to two April defeats at the hands of France and Canada.

England women have never faced Latvia, Luxembourg or North Macedonia before. Their last meeting with Austria was a 3-0 friendly win in Maria Enzersdorf in November 2018. The qualifiers will take place between September 2021 and September 2022. Fixture dates are yet to be confirmed.

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