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Leah Williamson: Arsenal defender primed for first England start in over a year as Lionesses face Republic of Ireland

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Sarina Wiegman has confirmed Leah Williamson will start England’s second Euro 2025 qualifying match after a 12-month injury absence, while warning her side must not underestimate the Republic of Ireland on Tuesday night.

Williamson last turned out for England in a friendly match against Australia in April 2023.

But an anterior cruciate ligament injury (ACL) suffered days later caused the defender to miss a year of international football, which included England’s World Cup campaign.

After being an unused substitute in Friday’s 1-1 opening qualifying game draw against Sweden, Wiegman announced Williamson’s start against Ireland in her pre-match press conference.

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Leah Williamson will be representing England for the first time since rupturing her ACL

“We’ve had hard choices to make in the team because I think the competitiveness is really high and we have many options in different positions,” Wiegman said.

“I think what Leah brings us is vision, in possession she’s just very bright and finds the right pass.

“The flexibility, the defence, being able to defend the space behind her together with everyone else – because defending doesn’t just start with one player, it starts with the team – and I hope Leah will bring that to the team tomorrow.”

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Williamson looks ahead to the game against Republic Of Ireland where she will face Arsenal team-mate Katie McCabe

Williamson’s England return was partially delayed after she was forced to withdraw from the squad in February due to a hamstring strain.

“It will be emotional,” said Williamson, who captained England to glory at Euro 2022.

“I’m an emotional person. We’ve all seen me cry on many occasions. It was emotional on Friday because if there’s a team you want to be in, in the world, England would be right up there. I love playing for England.

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England midfielder Keira Walsh says it’s a massive boost to have WIlliamson back

“I’ve enjoyed watching the girls, I’ve enjoyed being part of that journey in a different way, obviously I’ve got people that play for the team who are very important to me.

“It’s been a difficult journey, I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t the thing I’d had my focus on, this is where I wanted to get back to. I wanted to be good enough to get back into this squad, I’ve had some of the best memories of my life as part of this team.”

Smith: Williamson’s quality big boost

Sarina Wiegman says she's pleased to be able to include Williamson in selection but remains coy on captaincy
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Leah Williamson will start against ROI on Tuesday night, having last featured for England a year ago

Sky Sports pundit Sue Smith:

“It’s a positive on and off the pitch. We know the leadership capacity she brings. So many defensive qualities: the way she reads the game, how good she is in the air, in duels, but also build-up play from the back.

“There’s games where I’ve watched England and they have conceded far too easily. The partnership with Leah and Millie Bright was really strong, and defensive solidity has suffered without them.

“Williamson has had little niggles trying to recover fully from such a long period out, which happens, but the quality she brings is great news for England.”

Wiegman: Ireland tough to break down

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Anton Toloui reacts to England’s draw against Sweden in the Euro 2025 qualifier at Wembley.

England began their qualifying campaign with a draw against Sweden after Fridolina Rolfo cancelled out Alessia Russo’s opener at Wembley on Friday.

Ireland were narrowly beaten 1-0 by France in their game on Thursday and Wiegman has cautioned her side not to underestimate their hosts at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium.

“They were promoted to this group and I think don’t underestimate anyone, especially not Ireland,” the Dutchwoman said.

“They’ve had a 1-0 result against France that was really good. What we expect is they are a physical team and are very well organised, so they can play the counter-attack.

“You can try to take that opportunity and moments that they will probably jump and press out, so we have to be aware of that. We’re definitely going to think that’s hard to break down their defence.”

Analysis: Euros history won’t guarantee success now

Lucy Bronze cuts a frustrated figure at Wembley
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England were held to a frustrating 1-1 draw with Sweden on Friday night

Sky Sports’ Laura Hunter:

“England are reigning European champions but their latest qualification campaign began with a stutter. Sarina Wiegman was clearly frustrated by England’s less-than-perfect display against Sweden on Friday night. There’s lots to ponder, not least because their group is tougher than most. Momentum is proving hard to come by.

“Where the Lionesses were lacking at Wembley, which will be addressed by the reintroduction of Leah Williamson against Ireland, was pace at the back to combat two very direct wingers – Johanna Rytting Kaneryd and Fridolina Rolfo, the latter scoring Sweden’s equaliser.

“Positioning was off, too, and England were a little ponderous in possession. All of that should be improved by Williamson, who is a proven leader and organiser, as well as being excellent in possession.

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Watch the best of Williamson as she makes her first start in the WSL since returning from an ACL injury

“Ireland at the Aviva Stadium will be testing. Journey back to Euro 2022 and England were far more defensively solid, registering four clean sheets across six games. Shut-outs have been much less frequent since, with just two in their most recent 12.

“Step-up is also needed from midfield duo Georgia Stanway and Keira Walsh, usually so reliable and tidy on the ball. Their efficiency in possession was combated well by the Swedes, but is crucial to the way England like to build through the thirds under Wiegman.

“More energy, intensity and sharper decision-making – all things Wiegman noted post-match – needed.”

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