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.
“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.
“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.
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
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
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
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
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
Sunday July 31
Winners semi-final 1 v Winners semi-final 2 – kick-off 5pm, Wembley