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Williamson to start for England against Republic of Ireland

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Captain Leah Williamson will make her first England appearance in a year in Tuesday’s Euro 2025 qualifier against the Republic of Ireland, manager Sarina Wiegman confirmed.

She was an unused substitute in Friday’s 1-1 draw with Sweden.

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

She added: “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.”

All 23 players trained at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Monday, including Williamson, whose last England game was a 2-0 defeat by Australia in April 2023.

She had to sit in the stands as England lost the World Cup final to Spain in August and was ruled out of February’s friendly internationals with a hamstring injury.

“I think who I am on the pitch is exactly who I was off the pitch. I don’t think I was a calming presence for anyone especially,” said Williamson.

“But I’ve enjoyed watching the girls and being a part of that journey in a different way. Obviously, I’ve got people that play for the team that are very important to me but it’s been a difficult journey.

“I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t what I had my focus on – this is where I was trying to get back to. I wanted to get back into this squad because I’ve had some of the best memories of my life as part of this team.

“Being at the World Cup final and sitting next to Jill Scott was one of the worst decisions I have ever made, in my entire life! I just live and breathe it. I love playing for England and I love watching England.”

Williamson was on the bench as England kickstarted their Euro 2025 qualifying campaign with a disappointing 1-1 draw with Sweden on Friday but Wiegman says she had “hard choices” to make in her selections for Tuesday’s game in Dublin.

“Of course Leah is a fantastic player. I want to say first that we had hard choices to make in the team. The competitiveness is really high. We have many options in different positions,” said Wiegman.

“What Leah brings is of course vision and in possession she is very bright. She finds the right pass. The flexibility in defence, she is able to defend the space behind her together with everyone else.

“Defending does not start with one player but with the whole team. That’s what I hope Leah will bring to the team tomorrow.”

‘I don’t really want to talk about must-win’

Katie McCabe captained the Republic of Ireland at their first Women’s World Cup last year

England face Sweden, France and the Republic of Ireland, ranked 25th in the world, in their qualifying group. The top two teams automatically secure a spot at next summer’s tournament in Switzerland. The other two sides drop into the play-offs.

Tuesday’s opponents the Republic of Ireland are the lowest-ranked side in the group but Wiegman would not be drawn into describing it as a “must-win” game.

“Well I don’t really want to talk about must-win – but we really want to win this game. If we win this game it puts us in a better position,” said Wiegman.

“We know this group. It’s hard to predict where it will go. You just go out there in every game and try to play your best game. That’s what we will do [on Tuesday].

“Yes, we know, if the result is good, it puts us in a better position. If the result is not good, it puts us in a harder position. But there are still four other opportunities to change that around.”

Williamson could come up against Republic of Ireland captain and Arsenal team-mate Katie McCabe, and has a very simple plan to deal with her.

“Err, well if she doesn’t have the ball then she can’t do anything. That’s a good start, right?” joked Williamson.

“I think Katie is a big personality. She’s always been somebody that is very proud of where she comes from and has been authentic in that with the fans so I think a lot of people connect to her in that way.

“She knows her strengths; she has those strengths that can be game-changing as well, which I think has raised the profile of her game and, subsequently, Arsenal’s. So she’s been an important player for us over the last couple of years.”

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