On to new victories: Lionesses prepare for North Macedonia match

Ellen White and Keira Walsh battle for the ball during a training session.
Ellen White and Keira Walsh battle for the ball during the Lionesses' training session prior to their match against North Macedonia in April 2022. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Since the appointment of Sarina Wiegman, the Lionesses have built up an impressive winning streak. Now, they seek to expand it with a win in their World Cup qualifier against North Macedonia.

The big headline surrounding the team this week was the appointment of Leah Williamson as captain. She will lead the Lionesses during the UEFA Women’s Euros 2022. However, the defender misses out on the squad’s upcoming games with concussion.

“She is doing well and she came into camp good,” said Wiegman, when speaking to the media on Thursday. “We didn’t want to take any risk—she had a little bit of a headache. We take the medical protocols, which means that she just needs to take a little more time in her programme to build her up.”

Captaincy

As Steph Houghton still battles with an injury, Wiegman wanted clarity about the armband. She pointed out the great job Williamson did when captaining England at the Arnold Clark Cup in February.

“She’s a very good player. She connects people on and off the beach, so that’s why I made [the decision].”

In her absence, Williamson is replaced by Millie Bright, who will also be Vice-Captain at the Euros.

“It’s a massive honour,” said Bright. “Honestly, I think, as a player, there’s no higher honour. And I’m actually proud of Leah. She’s been absolutely amazing, fully deserved.”

Millie Bright stretches for the ball ahead of Ellen White during a training session.
Millie Bright stretches for the ball ahead of Ellen White during the Lionesses’ training session prior to their match against North Macedonia in April 2022. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Bright explained that her and Williamson don’t have to work too hard to be on the same page.

“We get on really well,” the defender said. “I think we have the same mindset on the pitch. I might be a little bit louder than Leah. We work off each other really well.”

Despite these good conditions, Bright continues to look forward to building their relationship on and off the pitch.

Injury updates

Williamson is not the only player missing for the upcoming qualifiers. On Thursday, Lotte Wubben-Moy and Alex Greenwood withdrew from the squad with injuries. Wiegman is disappointed not to see both players at the next games.

“We have to do the right things for them,” explained the Dutch manager. “Yes, we want them in the squad and we want them to play. But if there’s too much like physical issues, you don’t want to make the big risks that they get injured for a longer time.”

She continued: “That’s not what we want to do. So I think we made the right decision, although very disappointing for them and for us.”

Looking ahead

The Lionesses’ first encounter with North Macedonia was their first game under Wiegman. The match saw her new team score an impressive eight goals. However, this does not change their approach to the next meeting.

“Our mindset remains the same and we want to go out there and have high standards,” said Bright firmly. “Obviously we want to win the game, but first and foremost, we want a good performance to show up while it is. And I think it’s when you’ve come off a high, we have to be prepared to go out and play a game.”

The Wiegman-effect

Millie Bright believes the team has massively improved since the last match against Friday’s opponent:.

“I hope everyone can see that back home as well—how much the team’s developing. I think you can see that we certainly feel that in and around the games and trainings.”

Bright added: “We’re seeing that we just have to keep pushing the levels. But yeah, there’s been a massive improvement. I think we’re harder to beat. We’re now certainly been ruthless down the other end as well.”

Sarina Wiegman and Ellen White interact on the training field.
Sarina Wiegman and Ellen White interact during a training session ahead of the Lionesses’ match against North Macedonia in April 2022. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Wiegman’s stats speak for themselves. Her side hasn’t lost a game since her appointment, and the Lionesses have scored goals from all sides of the pitch.

Bright thinks the team has just connected better: “It’s about getting the relationships on the pitch, composure at the back and just allowing you to be front foot, a defensive leader and not only be ruthless in front of goal, but making sure that you’re keeping clean sheets.”

More goals to come

The latter one would normally be Bright’s main task. At the Arnold Clark Cup, however, the defender found herself up in front several times. She netted two goals for her side, which made her joint top-scorer with Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas.

“I think that was still sinking in,” admitted Bright. “It’s something that I’ve really wanted to add to my game. I feel like I do have a lot of precedence on, I’ve just really been lucky in providing goals for the team. And I’m still striving to get on the score sheet and pull the people in good positions to score as well.”

Bright said it was surreal to share the Golden Boot with Putellas. She still has the trophy.

“I did ask her if she wants to take it, and she politely said that I could keep it for being a defender. Lots of respect for her, and thank you for letting me keep the trophy.”

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