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England’s Sarina Wiegman to avoid big changes for Northern Ireland game

Sarina Wiegman has said there will not be wholesale changes to her England side for Friday night’s dead rubber against Northern Ireland at St Mary’s.

“I believe in rhythm,” the manager said. “When you have nine days in between the Norwegian game and the quarter-finals that’s too long. You need more rhythm and keep the focus and keep playing. So you couldn’t expect lots of rotations – during the game, probably, but not before.”

Wiegman has form on this score, having made only two changes for the final group game of the 2017 Euros when she was manager of a Netherlands team that had won their first two games and went on to win the tournament on home soil.

England have progressed to the quarter-finals as Group A winners after a 1-0 defeat of Austria at Old Trafford and Monday’s 8-0 demolition of Norway. Northern Ireland’s exit from their first major tournament has been confirmed after a 4-1 defeat by Norway and 2-0 loss to Austria.

Wiegman said she understood there may be disappointment among those outside the starting XI at a lack of rotation given there is nothing riding on the result.

“We will do what we believe gives us the best chance to win the next game,” she said. “And yes, of course some players will be disappointed, but we keep communicating, we keep being clear about what we do and why we do it … If you wouldn’t be eager to play then the player wouldn’t be in this squad.”

She also dismissed concerns about risk of injury to players who will be important during the knockout stage, which begins on Wednesday when England face the Group B runners-up in Brighton.

“That’s always the case,” she said. “These things can always happen at the level we play. What we want to do is play a good game. We are focused, we are concentrated, we will probably have a lot of possession; we keep the ball going and then be composed.

“You always know at this level, you are looking for the edge and things can happen, and another player will be ready. We don’t hope for that, but the priority is to keep rhythm and stay connected, communicating on and off the pitch.”

England’s record against Northern Ireland is strong. The teams have met three times in the past 18 months, with England winning 6-0 in a friendly in February 2021 and twice in World Cup qualifying: 4-0 at Wembley last October and 5-0 in Belfast in April.

“For them it’s just really good that they have had their first tournament,” said Wiegman. “For the development of players you need tournaments to become better and to know what to expect next time.

“We can see they are trying to develop their style of play and I’m absolutely sure they will try to make it a competitive game and to get the best out of it – we will try to do that too.”

Wiegman also confirmed England had been practising penalties. “I believe that practice and preparation helps more than doing nothing. We always want to expect maybe the unexpected – and penalties can be expected. So we will be prepared for them to happen.

“Everything that can come up in a tournament we have been talking about and practising, in the hope that somewhere here if it comes up, we will be ready.”