Past and present collide as England face Netherlands in ‘special’ friendly

There may well have been moments this year when Sarina Wiegman and Mark Parsons unwittingly crossed paths at Schiphol airport but on Friday night the pair will come face to face in a “very special” pre-Euro 2022 friendly at Elland Road.

While Wiegman frequently commutes to work as the England Women manager from her home in The Hague, Parsons can regularly be spotted travelling to the Netherlands from his family’s base in Surrey.

As Wiegman’s sucessor, the Oranje’s 35-year-old English manager has much to live up to. The former Chelsea Women reserve coach has enjoyed considerable success managing DC United, Washington Spirit and Portland Thorns in the United States after emigrating in 2010 but his predecessor’s legacy is formidable.

After leading her country to home Euro 2017 glory before losing the 2019 World Cup final to the United States in Lyon, Wiegman joined the Lionesses last year, tasked with guiding them to victory in this summer’s showpiece on English soil. “What Sarina did was exceptional,” says Parsons. “I don’t know if it’s too smart of me to have succeeded someone like that.”

Sarina Wiegman, the England manager
Sarina Wiegman was the Netherlands’ manager when they won Euro 17 on home soil. Photograph: Carl Recine/Action Images/Reuters

His predecessor cannot wait to renew acquaintance with Vivianne Miedema, Sherida Spitse and co. “It’s a very special game,” says Wiegman, whose side defeated England 3-0 in the Euro 2017 semi-final. “I worked with that team for many years and it will be really nice to see them again.

“I don’t think they’ve changed that much, the players are still the same and they have the same qualities; maybe they’re better now. They’ve adjusted one or two minor things but they’re still a very good team I know pretty well. I think they’ll play their strongest XI.”

Twelve games, 10 wins, two draws and 75 goals scored into her new role things look promising but England have rarely faced opposition of Friday’s calibre in recent months. “This is a key game,” Parsons says. “You don’t really know where you are until you play the top teams.”

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Northern Ireland beaten by Belgium after Burns red

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Northern Ireland suffered a late collapse in their Euro 2022 warm-up game against Belgium, losing 4-1 after goalkeeper Jackie Burns was sent off with the scores level.

Lauren Wade’s superb strike just before half-time had cancelled out Tessa Wullaert’s opener for the hosts. With 20 minutes to go, Burns brought down Wullaert when clean through on the edge of the area, leaving referee Victoria Beyer no option but to show the red card.

Brighouse Town goalkeeper Becky Flaherty was brought on for Wade, and the visitors held out until the 82nd minute when Ella Van Kerkhoven headed home. Belgium captain Wullaert then doubled her tally before Laura Rafferty’s own goal in stoppage time completed the scoring.

Kenny Shiels’ side begin their Euro 2022 campaign against Norway on 7 July at St Mary’s Stadium in Southampton. Belgium kick off their campaign against Iceland at the Manchester City Academy Stadium three days later, and also face France and Italy in Group D.

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Wiegman agrees. “The Netherlands are defending champions and it is our home tournament but it’s going to be a very strong Euros,” she says. “We have Spain, we have France, we have Germany, Sweden are always up there and Norway. It’s very equal, I think.”

England will be without record goalscorer Ellen White after the Manchester City striker failed a routine Covid test on Wednesday. She is asymptomatic and will rejoin the squad as soon as she tests negative, with Wiegman hoping the striker will be on the plane to the week-long training camp in Switzerland on Monday. “The world is open so sometimes players and staff can test positive,” saidys a sanguine Wiegman. “We’re trying to be careful so let’s hope we don’t have 15 positives.”

Rachel Daly in training
Rachel Daly is a big Leeds fan, and has a line from their club anthem ‘Marching on Together’ tattooed on her arm. Photograph: Carl Recine/Action Images/Reuters

Elland Road will prove a particularly evocative venue for the Harrogate-born Rachel Daly. The Houston Dash utility player – she can play in pretty much any outfield position but excels at full-back and up front – began with Leeds and remains a staunch supporter of their men’s team.

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England squad to face the Netherlands

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Earps; Bronze, Bright, Greenwood, Stokes; Williamson, Walsh; Mead, Stanway, Hemp; England

Subtitutes Roebuck, Hampton, Carter, Wubben-Moy, Daly, Scott, Toone, Kelly, Russo, Kirby, Parris

Fri 8pm BST, Elland Road

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“I’ve never actually played at Elland Road, which is weird,” she says. “I’m a diehard Leeds fan and my family will all be there, just with one person missing.”

Last September Daly’s world turned upside down when her father, Martyn, died suddenly. “My dad was the person who made me into such a big Leeds fan,” she says. “It will be hard for me that he’s not there but, touch wood, I make an appearance and get that 50th cap. Leeds has got such a special place in my heart.”