England may have moved to a new high of second in the FIFA world rankings but newly-appointed boss Phil Neville admits it’s all about top spot for the Lionesses.
The former Manchester United and Everton defender will lead his country on home soil for the first-time when England tackle Wales in a World Cup qualifier on Friday April 6 at Southampton’s St Mary’s Stadium.
He has already coached the Lionesses at the SheBelieves Cup earlier this month – but Neville revealed England’s clash with Wales is the game he has been targeting since being appointed manager.
England will welcome back skipper Steph Houghton and her deputy Jordan Nobbs for the vital tie and Neville is desperate to ensure the Lionesses’ development continues.
Wales are presently top of the qualification group by a point having played a game more – and Neville knows the importance of getting three points in Southampton.
“To be honest, when I took the job, the game against Wales was the one I was looking forward to the most,” said Neville.
“Firstly, because it is at home and at a Premier League stadium I really enjoy going to and then it’s a World Cup qualifier, which made it the biggest game, bigger than the SheBelieves Cup.
“It will be very hard when we play Wales, it is a Home Nations game and there will be more emotion involved. And I think in terms of our players, we have got to deal with the occasion.
“It is a massive positive to be number two in the world. Recognition like that should be applauded but to those before me who worked for that rather than myself.
“But, nobody remembers who is second – people only remember who is first and we want to get there.
“The challenge when I came in was to get from third to first.
“Now that challenge has become a little bit more apparent that we are one step away.
“Ultimately, we want to qualify for a World Cup which means we need to beat Wales and Bosnia. And then we want to win a World Cup.
“I think winning a World Cup would be so much more important. I am looking for trophies and medals.”
Neville has warned his players to keep their emotions in check against Wales – revealing any clash with a Home Nations side is a special occasion.
“It starts in the tunnel, they can get emotional and you can get involved with it,” he said. “It will reach a high point when you hear the anthems but I think we have to follow the old saying ‘you have got to play the game, not the occasion’.
“We have got to trust our ability and our gameplan tactically, in and out of possession. We have to trust the fact that hopefully on the day we will have better players than Wales and not get involved in terms of the emotions of the occasions – which can always happen.
“We could become too highly charged but my players are used to playing in big games now. And this is another step on the ladder to where we want to go.”
Neville is no stranger to St Mary’s having played his 500th senior league game at the stadium and the former England international is calling on Southampton fans to turn up in their droves for the clash with Wales.
“I have played at St Mary’s many times, it is a really nice stadium, a modern stadium and the pitch is always fantastic,” he added.
“That is perhaps the one thing we are looking forward to the most, to get out there on that surface. The ticket sales are going fantastic but we can always do with more support.
“I played my 500th league game at St Mary’s when I was at Everton on a Monday night. It was Mauricio Pochettino’s first game as Southampton manager.
“I would say that was the biggest and best match I played there. I did not have many at The Dell so I was delighted they moved because The Dell was always a tough place to go.
“St Mary’s has been a bit kinder and playing my 500th game there against a manager who I hold in very high regard was a special moment.”
Leah Williamson and Jade Moore have been added to the England squad for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup qualifiers against Wales and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Uncapped Arsenal defender Williamson and Reading midfielder Moore were already due to train with the Lionesses this week at St. George’s Park, but were drafted into the 23-player selection following the withdrawal of Chelsea centre-back Millie Bright (ankle) and Manchester City midfielder Jill Scott (back).
England will welcome Wales to Southampton FC’s St. Mary’s Stadium this Friday [6 April], for their first fixture at the Premier League ground since 2006. Wales top qualifying Group 1 with ten points from four games, a point ahead of England having played a game more. The match will be followed by a trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina on Tuesday week [10 April].
Tickets for the Wales match at St. Mary’ Stadium, Southampton are on sale. Children and concessions tickets are just £1 and group booking and Charter Standard discounts apply.
England face Wales in a FIFA Women’s World Cup qualifier at St. Mary’s Stadium on 6 April (KO 7pm). Buy tickets (£10 Adult/£1 Under-18) at www.thefa.com/tickets or call 02381 780 780.
By Charlie Bennett, Sportsbeat