Northern Ireland manager Kenny Shiels confessed his side may have come to this summer’s European Championships too early in their progression – as defeat to Austria proved they are not ready for the top teams.

Shiels’ side were left rooted to the bottom of Group A and pointless after Austria ran out 2-0 winners in Southampton, via goals in either half from Katharina Schiechtl and Katharina Naschenweng.

The result means Northern Ireland will be eliminated from the competition – with another tricky group game to come against England – if the Lionesses and Norway draw in their clash later on Monday. But Shiels is already thinking about how to ensure the country improves on player quality for the next tournament.

Austria celebrate their first goal against Northern Ireland

Image: Austria celebrate their first goal against Northern Ireland

“You look at the perspective and where we are and where Austria are in terms of what they’ve reached in the women’s game. They have one of the best academies in Europe,” Shiels said after the game.

“It’s a really tough opponent but we’re exercising that as much as we can and the players are getting the experience from the tough games – with one more coming and no bigger one than England.

“If you look at where we were when we came in, we reached this level too soon. There’s no way we can transform a team in two years how we have done and take it to that level immediately. We have some developmental stuff we need to do, with the 19, and 20-year-olds to get them to the senior team.

Northern Ireland manager Kenny Shiels looks on in anguish

Image: Northern Ireland manager Kenny Shiels looks on in anguish

“Have we enough to challenge the top teams? Not yet. We have to keep improving the U19s and U17s, to improve them so they reach a level that they’re ready to play.

“Some of those players who [played today] are not ready to play, but the experience is part of the development. It’s vital we know that.”

McFadden: NI players are absolutely gutted

Defender Sarah McFadden, who has played in both European Championship group games so far, could not hide her and her team-mates’ disappointment at not picking up at least a point in what was, on paper, their most winnable group game.

“We were really close. We’re gutted, absolutely gutted,” said McFadden. “In the first half, we got at them [Norway] and didn’t capitalise, didn’t get a clear-cut chance. We thought today was the day we’d get a win in these championships.

“We were so in the game. We put so much into it in the first half. We had people in the changing room knackered at half-time but Austria have a team of superstars, with players who play in the best leagues in the world We tried to turn the screw but got caught out.”

McFadden also looked to the future of the Northern Ireland team and praised Shiels for fielding young players such as Kirsty McGuinness and Emily Wilson on one of the biggest stages in women’s football.

Euro 2022: The groups…

Group A: England, Austria, Norway, Northern Ireland

Group B: Germany, Denmark, Spain, Finland

Group C: Netherlands, Sweden, Portugal, Switzerland

Group D: France, Italy, Belgium, Iceland

Euro 2022: The schedule…

Group stage

Wednesday July 6

Group A: England 1-0 Austria

Thursday July 7

Group A: Norway 4-1 Northern Ireland

Friday July 8

Group B: Spain 4-1 Finland

Group B: Germany 4-0 Denmark

Saturday July 9

Group C: Portugal 2-2 Switzerland

Group C: Netherlands 1-1 Sweden

Sunday July 10

Group D: Belgium 1-1 Iceland

Group D: France 5-1 Italy

Monday July 11

Group A: Austria 2-0 Northern Ireland

Group A: England v Norway – kick-off 8pm, Brighton and Hove Community Stadium

Tuesday July 12

Group B: Denmark vs Finland – kick-off 5pm, Stadium MK

Group B: Germany vs Spain – kick-off 8pm, London Community Stadium

Wednesday July 13

Group C: Sweden vs Switzerland – kick-off 5pm, Bramall Lane

Group C: Netherlands v Portugal – kick-off 8pm, Leigh Sports Village

Thursday July 14

Group D: Italy vs Iceland – kick-off 5pm, Manchester City Academy Stadium

Group D: France vs Belgium – kick-off 8pm, New York Stadium

Friday July 15

Group A: Northern Ireland v England – kick-off 8pm, St Mary’s

Group A: Austria vs Norway – kick-off 8pm, Brighton and Hove Community Stadium

Saturday July 16

Group B: Finland vs Germany – kick-off 8pm, Stadium MK

Group B: Denmark vs Spain – kick-off 8pm, London Community Stadium

Sunday July 17

Group C: Switzerland vs Netherlands – kick-off 5pm, Bramall Lane

Group C: Sweden vs Portugal – kick-off 5pm, Leigh Sports Village

Monday July 18

Group D: Iceland vs France – kick-off 8pm, New York Stadium

Group D: Italy vs Belgium – kick-off 8pm, Manchester City Academy Stadium

Knockout phase

Quarter-finals

Wednesday July 20

Quarter-final 1: Winners Group A v Runners-up Group B – kick-off 8pm, Brighton and Hove Community Stadium

Thursday July 21

Quarter-final 2: Winners Group B v Runners-up Group A – kick-off 8pm, London Community Stadium

Friday July 22

Quarter-final 3: Winners Group C v Runners-up Group D – kick-off 8pm, Leigh Sports Village

Quarter-final 4: Winners Group D v Runners-up Group C – kick-off 8pm, New York Stadium

Semi-finals

Tuesday July 26

Semi-final 1: Winners quarter-final 1 v Winners quarter-final 3 – kick-off 8pm, Bramall Lane

Wednesday July 27

Semi-final 2: Winners quarter-final 2 v Winners quarter-final 4 – kick-off 8pm, Stadium MK

Final

Sunday July 31

Winners semi-final 1 v Winners semi-final 2 – kick-off 5pm, Wembley