Arsenal have confirmed that Victoria Pelova has sustained an anterior cruciate ligament injury while on international duty with the Netherlands. 

The 25-year-old, who scored two goals and provided seven assists during the 2023–24 Women's Super League campaign for the Gunners, is expected to undergo surgery in the coming days, but it is not the first time an Arsenal player has suffered an injury of this nature. 

England pair Beth Mead and Leah Williamson were forced to miss the 2023 Women's World Cup, with Pelova's compatriot Vivianne Miedema also missing out on the tournament in Australia because of the same issue. 

In a statement, Arsenal said: "Victoria was substituted after her knee extended in the 12th minute of the Netherlands' UEFA Women's Championship qualifier in Tampere, Finland, and subsequently underwent testing to determine the extent of the injury.

"She will undergo surgery in due course and will be sidelined for an extended period."

Pelova was one of the Gunners' most influential players during their third-place finish in the WSL, creating 30 chances from her 22 appearances, the third-highest in the squad behind Mead and Katie McCabe, as Arsenal finished third, while also winning the Women's League Cup. 

ACL injuries have become a major problem for the women’s game and in April a new three-year project researching them was launched.

Sarina Wiegman rued England's sloppyness from set-pieces, as the Lionesses' Euro 2025 qualifying hopes were dented by a 2-1 defeat to France.

England suffered their first home defeat in a qualifying match since October 2002 with Les Bleues - ironically the last nation to inflict such a loss - coming from behind to prevail at St James' Park.

The reigning European champions had the opportunity to leapfrog France to the Group A3 summit and, despite losing goalkeeper Mary Earps to injury early on, the hosts appeared on course to do just that when Beth Mead opened the scoring after half an hour.

However, they were undone by set-pieces in both halves, as goals from Elisa De Almeida and Marie-Antoinette Katoto completed the turnaround in the visitors' favour.

The Lionesses, who travel to Stade Geoffroy-Guichard for the return meeting on Tuesday, slip to third place in Group A3. And though Wiegman hailed the overall performance, she acknowledged her side must improve.

"It was frustrating," she told ITV Sport. "I think we played pretty well, we conceded two goals from set plays, which we have to do a lot better on.

"In these matches, you don't get too many chances. In the first half, we created multiple, but only scored one - and they unfortunately scored one too.

"We were more on the ball in the second half without creating too many more chances, but we were dangerous. The final pass needed to be better.

"We know France are really good at set-pieces. Of course, we were prepared, but they still got that time."

Skipper Leah Williamson added: "[We're] really disappointed, the game was there to be won. It was a fantastic occasion. The fans have never let us down, so it's a shame not to give them a win as well.

"We played well, not good enough to win the game, but the chances were there to win it. Two set-pieces have killed us. There's an element of luck to those things, but first contact and second contact need to be better. We will be better on Tuesday."

Millie Bright has been recalled to the England squad for the Lionesses' upcoming Euro 2025 qualifiers against France, Sweden and the Republic of Ireland.

Bright, who led her country to last year's World Cup final, is named in the 24-player party for the first time since October, having missed most of the season with a knee injury. 

The Chelsea defender is joined in Sarina Wiegman's squad by teammate Aggie Beever-Jones, who will hope to win her first cap after an impressive Women's Super League campaign in which she has scored 11 goals in 15 games.

The reigning European champions, who are second in their qualifying group and two points behind leaders France, play back-to-back games against the French on May 31 and June 4. They will then host the Irish on July 12, before heading to Sweden four days later. 

"After an intense season, we wanted to give the players clarity and help them to prepare in the best possible way, with the balance of performance and welfare as a priority," Wiegman said.

"We have had good conversations with the clubs, and we are grateful for their co-operation and support in helping the players to be fresh, fit and ready for two international matches at the highest level.

"The group is finely balanced and we know that every game is going to be tight, and we’ll need to be at our best."

Sarina Wiegman was “really happy” with the win while seeing room for improvement after England got a first Euro 2025 qualifying victory on the board by beating the Republic of Ireland 2-0 at the Aviva Stadium.

Four days on from being held 1-1 by Sweden at Wembley in their Group A3 opener, the reigning European champions went in front via Lauren James’ early finish and Alex Greenwood added an 18th-minute penalty before sending another against a post on the half-hour mark.

After the break Fran Kirby was thwarted by a fine Courtney Brosnan save, and Hannah Hampton – selected over Mary Earps in the England goal – then parried Caitlin Hayes’ header as the Republic applied late pressure to no avail in front of a crowd of 32,742.

Lionesses boss Wiegman, whose side are two points behind pool leaders France ahead of playing them in a double-header in their next fixtures on May 31 and June 4, said: “I think the first half we were totally dominating.

“We were 2-0 up but I think we should have been up more. I think at moments we should have been more tight on the ball, more secure to really create the big chance, and right before the chance sometimes we were a little bit sloppy, although I did think we played well.

“I think the second half, at moments we did good too but then they got momentum and we were struggling a little bit and they made it a real fight.

“We had to really fight in one-v-ones in the 18-yard box, and then for us of course it’s a lesson that if we win that ball we really want to keep it and play out of that press and then create our momentum again. That’s what we struggled with a bit.

“But I do think what we showed is we really as a team wanted to keep the (clean sheet), were able to fight also. That’s what we take with us for the next games, so I’m really happy with the win.

“We know they (France) are absolute top level so we have to be at our top level. We have to improve all the time, first of all because we want that, and second, because if we want to stay at the top, then it’s necessary to develop.”

Asked about her decision to select Hampton over Earps, Wiegman said: “They are two incredibly good goalkeepers, so that’s a really luxury position we’re in.

“Mary’s been really consistent with us but Hannah is also competing, has improved a lot, so I felt this was a game to give her the opportunity also to play, I have the trust she can do a good job.

“In the air (Hampton) was good, we know she’s good with her feet, some moments could have been better, but solid, and one save was important in the second half.

“Of course (Earps) was disappointed, because she wants to play and has been so good for us. We had that conversation and she then she just showed up and moved on.”

Five changes to Wiegman’s starting XI also included fit-again skipper Leah Williamson returning for her first appearance in just under a year, and she said of the defender: “I’m happy with her performance, she had to get through this moment.”

England got a first Euro 2025 qualifying win on the board as they defeated the Republic of Ireland 2-0 at the Aviva Stadium.

Four days on from being held 1-1 by Sweden at Wembley in their Group A3 opener, Sarina Wiegman’s reigning European champions went in front via Lauren James’ 12th-minute finish.

They were then awarded two penalties for handball, with defender Alex Greenwood converting the first in the 18th minute before sending the second against a post in the 30th.

After the break England substitute Fran Kirby was thwarted by a fine Courtney Brosnan save, and Hannah Hampton – selected over Mary Earps in the Lionesses goal – then parried Caitlin Hayes’ header as the Republic applied late pressure in front of a crowd of 32,742.

Wiegman’s side sit second in the pool behind France, who have six points after beating Sweden 1-0, while Eileen Gleeson’s Ireland remain without a point, having lost 1-0 to the French in their first game last Friday.

England are next in action with a double-header against France in June.

Wiegman opted to make five changes to her starting line-up from the Sweden match, which as well as Hampton replacing Earps included fit-again skipper Leah Williamson returning for her first appearance in just under a year.

Hampton claimed an early Irish corner but England were soon on the front foot and after Alessia Russo’s header was dealt with by Brosnan, the visitors grabbed the lead when Keira Walsh crossed from the left, Lucy Bronze’s knock-down bounced off Anna Patten and the loose ball was drilled in by James.

The advantage was then swiftly doubled after a shot from Jess Park – another brought into the England XI – struck the arm of Ruesha Littlejohn, Finnish referee Lina Lehtovaara gave a penalty and it was scored by Greenwood as Brosnan went the wrong way.

Just before the half-hour mark Lehtovaara was once more pointing to the spot having judged the Republic guilty of handball, this time penalising Louise Quinn after the ball hit her leg then arm as she battled with Russo to get to a Hemp cross – a decision that prompted considerable protests from the hosts.

Greenwood stepped up to take again, but the outcome was different as her strike from 12 yards came back off the inside of the right post.

James saw a 39th-minute shot gathered by Brosnan before the early stages of the second half saw Wiegman send on Beth Mead and Kirby and Ireland make substitutions that included the introduction of Megan Campbell.

Mead and Kirby combined, with the latter being denied by Brosnan’s excellent stop, but having struggled to produce much in attack Ireland began to show more threat in the final quarter of an hour.

Campbell’s long throw led to a free-kick, Katie McCabe lofted it towards Quinn and she sent the ball into the danger zone, but no green shirt could finish.

Hayes then put one header wide before seeing another moments later blocked by Hampton.

Soon after, Hampton accidentally kicked the ball against the nearby McCabe, who brought another save out of the Chelsea goalkeeper as the Republic’s late push proved in vain.

Lauren Hemp feels England are thriving under the pressure of entering their Euro 2025 qualifiers as first-time defending champions.

The Lionesses could only muster a 1-1 draw with Sweden to open their qualifying campaign on Friday night at Wembley, with the Republic of Ireland to come on Tuesday, then France to conclude the competition’s first window.

Friday marked the first meeting between England and Sweden since their semi-final at Euro 2022, when England triumphed 4-0 en route to the Wembley final and their first major tournament trophy.

Asked if having a bigger target on the Lionesses’ backs is to their benefit, Hemp replied: “Yes. It’s great for us. We are European champions, and we want to keep that, so it’s important for us to win as many games as possible and get ourselves back in and among it.

“It’s good to have people come up and be like, ‘Oh my God, we’ve got England’, that’s what we want to be. We want to be a hard-working team, hard to beat. I think it’s great having that.”

Friday’s stalemate was certainly a much more even encounter between World Cup runners-up England and last summer’s bronze medallists, with Peter Gerhardsson’s side at times looking like the stronger opponent, particularly towards the closing stages of the first half.

Alessia Russo nodded home a fine Lauren James delivery to put her side in front inside 24 minutes, but the Arsenal forward’s maiden Wembley goal was cancelled out by Fridolina Rolfo after the break and the Lionesses could not find a winner in a late-stage rally.

It might have even been worse for England, who breathed a sigh of relief when Arsenal’s Stina Blackstenius – fresh off scoring last Sunday’s League Cup winner – squandered a golden chance for Sweden to take the lead earlier in the half.

In a new-look format, the top two sides in each of the four top-tier groups will directly book places at next summer’s European finals in Switzerland, while the remainder will be entered into a play-off round with teams from lower divisions.

On paper, the Lionesses’ group might be the toughest they have ever encountered in qualifying, but Hemp added: “I think for me I find it quite exciting. I want to play in tough games. I think as a group we’re so confident at the moment that we’re ready to take on anyone. We saw the group and my first thought was, ‘bring it on’. I think we are all like that.”

England boss Sarina Wiegman conceded she was “disappointed” after her defending champions could only manage a 1-1 draw with Sweden to kick off their Euro 2025 qualifying campaign at Wembley.

Alessia Russo nodded home Lauren James’ delivery to open the scoring in the 24th minute, but it was the visitors who looked likelier to score as half-time approached.

The Lionesses preserved their lead until the 64th minute, when England’s concentration switched off and allowed Fridolina Rolfo to drift in and nod substitute Rosa Kafaji’s delivery past Mary Earps.

Wiegman said: “I think this group is really tough. Of course I’m disappointed, because we always want to win.

“I think we scored a great goal, there was momentum in the game, we played well and we kept the ball a little longer.

“Second half I thought the goal was really unnecessary. They scored because we gave away a throw-in and from that throw-in we weren’t able to take out the cross and they scored from that. That was disappointing.

“As we see Sweden is a very tough opponent. I do think we could have done a couple of things better, but also showed Sweden gave us a hard time at the moment.

“We just want to learn from these games, we want to do better every game as other countries want to do too. I think it just shows how close and how tight our competition is.”

England were perhaps lucky that Arsenal’s Stina Blackstenius, who provided the winning strike in the Gunners’ League Cup final victory on Sunday, did not decide another contest this week.

She came achingly close when she found herself one-on-one with Earps shortly after the equaliser, instead directing her effort just wide of the England goalkeeper’s right post.

Wiegman made four second-half changes and staged a late rally, but were unable to find the finishing touch before the whistle blew on three minutes of added time.

Leah Williamson, who captained the Lionesses to their European triumph at Wembley in 2022, watched the entirety of the contest from the bench, almost a year out from her last England appearance.

The Arsenal defender, who was ruled out of last summer’s World Cup after rupturing her anterior cruciate ligament, has experienced a number of setbacks since returning to the Gunners in January.

Wiegman, however, was quick to confirm her decision to bench the 27-year-old had nothing to do with fitness concerns that plagued Williamson in the build-up to these qualifiers, after she was substituted in the second half of the League Cup final.

She firmly stated: “She is not injured otherwise she would not have been in the squad, and I would have told you that she was injured.”

The England boss also disagreed with speculation by some pundits that she had prematurely substituted her goalscorer, who was swapped for Chloe Kelly in the 79th minute, explaining: “Alessia played well but tactically we wanted to change a couple of things. We brought Lauren Hemp inside. We just wanted something a little bit different.”

The last time these two sides faced each other was in the semi-finals of Euro 2022, when Russo memorably scored an audacious backheel in the 4-0 victory to earn a nomination for FIFA’s goal of the year.

Friday’s meeting was a much closer affair, with Sweden boss Peter Gerhardsson later revealing he was pleased by the way his side’s plan to shut down England midfielder Keira Walsh – who wore the captain’s armband – had worked.

He said: “It’s one point each now, and it’s five more games. We don’t know what is going to happen.”

Defending champions England kicked off their Euro 2025 qualifying campaign with a 1-1 draw against Sweden in front of 63,248 at Wembley.

Alessia Russo nodded home Lauren James’ delivery to open the scoring inside 24 minutes, and the Lionesses managed to preserve their lead at the break despite Sweden threatening.

An equaliser felt imminent after the interval, and finally came when Fridolina Rolfo headed past Mary Earps, while the Lionesses were lucky not to fall behind when Arsenal’s Stina Blackstenius squandered a good chance for Sweden.

Euro 2022 captain Leah Williamson watched on from the bench as Beth Mead and Lauren Hemp led a late rally, but could not find the finishing touch as the sides settled for a point.

Williamson missed out on the Lionesses’ historic World Cup campaign last summer after rupturing her anterior cruciate ligament, and was also forced to pull out of February’s friendlies with a hamstring issue after being named in her first England side in 11 months.

The 27-year-old made her Gunners comeback in January but the journey has not been smooth with her most recent setback coming during Sunday’s League Cup final, which she started with a taped-up knee before being replaced in the second half.

Grace Clinton tried to volley England into an early lead, and there was worry for Sarina Wiegman when Russo went down after clattering into former Chelsea skipper Magdalena Eriksson, receiving lengthy treatment to her lower leg before she was deemed fit to continue.

Barcelona’s Rolfo came close with Sweden’s first good chance, sending Earps sprawling with a low effort that edged just wide of the far post minutes before Russo broke the deadlock.

It began with a fine effort by James to control the ball at the edge of the area and deliver a pinpoint clipped cross to the awaiting Russo, who stooped to head home in the 24th minute.

Sweden looked to reply on several occasions and largely looked the more threatening side in the half’s closing stages, but England clung on to their lead as Wiegman made her first change, swapping Clinton for Ella Toone, before Lucy Bronze had a weak header simply saved by Jennifer Falk.

Sweden boss Peter Gerhardsson made a pair of his own changes, a move that proved prescient when England momentarily switched off and allowed substitute Rosa Kafaji to make an instant impact, delivering the cross for Rolfo to nod past Earps.

England were lucky not to concede a quick second when Arsenal’s Blackstenius, who netted the winner in the Gunners’ Conti Cup final, found herself one-on-one with Earps but directed her effort wide.

On came more Euro 2022 stars – that tournament’s Golden Boot winner Mead in place of James and Chloe Kelly, who memorably scored the winner in that tournament’s final, while Jess Carter replaced Chelsea team-mate Niamh Charles.

The Lionesses had less than 10 minutes to alter the outcome, and they came close when Hemp latched on to the rebound of her own effort and fired a shot that Falk, who had slide out to make the initial save, would have had no chance of stopping.

It took a well-placed Eriksson to clear off the line, the stalemate standing after a fine save from Falk to deny Mead and preserve the point.

England midfielder Grace Clinton is excited to “hit the ground running” as the Lionesses start their European Championship qualifying campaign this week.

The defending European champions kick off against Sweden at Wembley on Friday before facing Republic of Ireland in Dublin four days later.

England then play France at St James’ Park in May and Tottenham loanee Clinton believes the side will need to be on “top form”.

“It was drawn right after the last camp, it’s a really competitive group but that’s always going to happen when you’re in such an amazing tournament,” Clinton told a press conference.

“I think we’re all really excited to get started to be honest and hit the ground running.

“(Sweden are) another team that has amazing depth and are a really strong side, they’re very physical and quite direct, score goals. So we’re going to have to be on top form if we want to get a result against a team like that.”

Clinton has two senior England caps under her belt already having made her debut in two friendlies in Spain, which included a debut goal in the Lionesses’ 7-2 victory over Austria.

After impressing in Spain, the 21-year-old will be aiming for more minutes in this month’s qualifiers and believes she has gained more confidence since making her senior bow.

She said: “It brings so much more confidence, in the lead up to getting your first cap you’re always going to be very nervous and now that you’ve been out with the girls on the pitch and really gone in the deep end it just feels a lot more natural when you’re in training.

“You have far more confidence to express yourself each time.”

Captain Leah Williamson is aiming to make her international comeback in the upcoming matches.

A post on the official Lionesses X account confirmed the defender was following an “individualised session” on Tuesday and Clinton is looking forward to seeing Williamson back on the pitch.

“It’s my first camp with Leah back in and she’s one of the best in the sport isn’t she? So it’s amazing to have her back,” she said.

“Obviously she’s getting integrated slowly and we’re only a couple of days in, so it’ll be really nice to get her back with the team on the pitch.”

Manchester City and England goalkeeper Ellie Roebuck has revealed she is recovering from a stroke – but has suffered no lasting damage to her brain function or vision.

Roebuck has not featured for City in the Women’s Super League this season, with 19-year-old Khiara Keating preferred by manager Gareth Taylor, and she has also dropped out of the England squad.

On Saturday, the 24-year-old announced in a post on social media she had “not felt well for a little while”, with subsequent tests showing she had suffered a left occipital infarct, a type of stroke which can cause double vision as well as headaches and loss of balance.

Following specialist medical support at City, Roebuck feels she is now “on the road to recovery”.

“I feel like now is the right time to share what’s been happening lately,” she said in a post on her social media channels.

“Unfortunately, having not felt well for a little while, I had some tests and it was discovered that I had suffered a left occipital infarct. Thankfully, there is no lasting damage to my brain function or vision.

“I’ve had many weeks of follow up tests, specialist appointments, and with the support of the medical team at the club I’m on the road to recovery.

“It’s great to be back with the girls, working on my rehab and more importantly feeling back to being normal Ellie.

“It’s been a really tough time, but with the support of my family, I’m now really positive and excited for my return to the pitch.

“Life can throw unexpected challenges at you and if this year has taught me anything, it’s that I’m strong and will give it all I’ve got for the thing I love most.

“I’m very grateful for your well-wishes and concern. My family and I would appreciate privacy while I concentrate on completing my recovery.”

Steph Houghton hopes she leaves the game “in a better place than when I started” and few could disagree that she has achieved just that.

The significant contribution she made will be recognised far beyond her 2016 MBE for achievements in women’s football.

After she announced that this season will be her last as a player, current Manchester City coach Gareth Taylor described her as “without question, an icon of the game”, while England wrote: “From leading the Lionesses to growing the women’s game – your impact will never be forgotten. A true icon.”

Houghton’s haul of eight major trophies with City – four Continental Cups, three Women’s FA Cups and the FA Women’s Super League title – makes her the club’s most decorated player.

But she also won the WSL twice with Arsenal, along with two FA Cups and three WSL Cups. In addition she has 121 England caps, having announced her international retirement last summer having failed to make Sarina Wiegman’s World Cup squad.

She is a bona fide England great but it was with Great Britain that the Durham native made her breakthrough as a star of the women’s game as she announced herself on the world stage at the 2012 London Olympics, scoring three times – including a winner against Brazil in front of a Wembley crowd of 70,000 – despite playing left-back.

It represented quite the turnaround for a player who had sat out the 2007 World Cup and 2009 European Championship with a broken leg and cruciate knee injuries respectively, a curse which was to strike again most painfully when she missed England’s historic triumph on home soil at Euro 2022 after surgery on an Achilles problem.

But, despite those setbacks, Houghton’s international career had its high points, captaining the Lionesses to a third-place finish at the 2015 World Cup and two subsequent major tournament semi-finals, reaching a century of England appearances and playing at another Olympics.

She was more successful, and less unfortunate, at club level as having progressed from Sunderland to Leeds in 2007, she made the move to Arsenal in 2010 and quickly started collecting silverware.

Initially a full-back with a keen eye for goal she would go on to be regarded as one of the finest centre-backs in the world and also a great leader, having captained Arsenal and City and assuming the Lionesses armband ahead of the 2015 World Cup.

But there was more international heartbreak to come in 2019 as she missed a late penalty in the 2-1 World Cup semi-final defeat to the United States having only been told on the day of the game she was assuming responsibilities from Nikita Parris.

She captained GB at her second Olympics, the 2021 Tokyo Games, but it was to be her last major tournament as the Achilles injury knocked her out of the reckoning for the 2022 Euros as a new England era began under Wiegman.

Away from the pitch, Houghton is married to former Bradford and Liverpool defender Stephen Darby, who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2018.

Houghton has taken part in a host of fundraising activities, including running 100 kilometres in aid of her husband’s charity – Darby Rimmer MND Foundation – in 2020 and last week brought her Man City team-mates to join him and former Ipswich striker Marcus Stewart, who also has the disease, at the end of a ‘March of the Day’ from Bradford to Liverpool.

Houghton, 36 in April, will have the chance to end her career on a high with City level on points with WSL leaders Chelsea with five matches remaining.

Former England captain Steph Houghton has announced her intention to retire at the end of the season.

The 35-year-old defender, who won 121 caps for the Lionesses, hopes to see out her career by winning the 2023/24 Women’s Super League title with Manchester City.

Houghton began playing for Sunderland in 2002 and also represented Leeds and Arsenal before moving to City 10 years ago.

 

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She made her England debut in 2007 and last featured in 2021 as injury ruled her out of the title-winning Euro 2022 squad.

She said on her official website: “There is no easy way to say it, but I am retiring from football at the end of the current WSL season.

“Taking the decision to retire, is such a difficult thing to do. Whilst age comes to every player, it makes it no easier having to say the words out loud. Football has been my life; my passion and I have loved the career I have had.

“I would like to thank every team-mate I have ever played with, I have continued to learn every day and appreciate the support each has given me and the friendships I have made along the way.

“To my managers, coaches and all the staff that I have worked with and under, I appreciate the time, effort and work you have dedicated to improving my game and the standards of women’s football.

“It has been an honour and a privilege to represent Sunderland, Leeds Utd, Arsenal and to have been on the incredible journey that I have been on, with Manchester City over the past 10 years.

“I will always be humbled to have made so many domestic appearances, to have captained my country and to have represented England and Team GB in so many international tournaments. I will always be very proud of everything that I have achieved in the game.

“I am excited for whatever comes next but, in the meantime, I remain focused on giving everything I have left for Manchester City, over the next two months.”

Houghton is gunning for a second WSL title with City, having also won the league twice with Arsenal.

City head coach Gareth Taylor said: “Steph is – without question – an icon of the game. Although her professional career on the pitch is now coming to an end, her legacy will be felt for so many years to come. She’s paved the way for so many to thrive in the future.

“Steph has lived and breathed football for such a long time, and she leaves it in the strongest place it has ever been – a true testament to her leadership, hard work, talent, and dedication.

“I feel incredibly privileged to have been able to work with her since 2020 and know her name will be written into the history books as a true footballing great.

“Steph will excel in whatever she puts her mind to, and on behalf of everyone here at Manchester City, I’d like to express our immense gratitude and wish Steph all the very best for the future.”

Beth Mead admits England’s Euro qualifying group is “not the nicest” but hopes they can achieve “consistency” in their upcoming fixtures.

The Lionesses begin their European Championship title defence with qualifying games for next year’s tournament, starting with Sweden at Wembley on April 5 before facing the Republic of Ireland in Dublin four days later. Group A3 also includes France, who England will play in May.

April’s fixtures will be the first set of competitive games since their Nations League disappointment in December, where England’s hopes of securing a spot for Team GB in the Paris Olympics were ended and Mead believes they are in a “tough group” for the upcoming qualifiers.

Speaking about her reaction to the draw, the England forward told PA news agency: “We came in from training, saw the draw- it’s not the nicest group in the world!

“I think me and (Arsenal team-mate) Katie McCabe had a little joke about having to play against each other and winding each other up with her playing for Republic of Ireland.

“There’s no easy game in women’s football these days and I think we’ve ultimately got a very tough group and we’re going to have to be on top of our game to do very well in this group.

“I think the biggest thing for us as an England squad is consistency, we let ourselves down in some Nations League games and now we’ve just got to be consistent in the way we play, the way we’re building.

“Hopefully we can get two wins on the board this international break which puts us in really good stead for the rest of the games in the group.”

Mead is an ambassador for McDonald’s Fun Football and was celebrating the return of sessions, which will see 500,000 children across the UK provided with free football coaching this spring.

She is in action on Sunday as Arsenal hunt for silverware in the Continental Tyres League Cup Final against Chelsea at Molineux, but after the international break only five Women’s Super League games remain.

The title race is out of Arsenal’s control with the team sat six points away from joint-leaders Chelsea and Manchester City, and Mead admits the Champions League is the target now.

“I think looking forward to the rest of the season as a team we’ve got to, as cliche as it sounds, game by game, three points on the board,” Mead added.

“Our ultimate goal now is to get Champions League football and you never know what happens in football, but it’s out of our hands title-wise now and we’re very aware of that.

“Throughout the season itself I think consistency has been our biggest problem, we’ve been a little bit up and down with some games, lost some games that arguably we probably shouldn’t have.

“That’s something we need to rectify going to the end of the season, then we reset and start again fresh next year.”

Mead also has an eye on former club Sunderland, who are top of a tightly-contested Women’s Championship with three games to go.

Four other teams remain in the running to secure promotion to the WSL and Mead, who joined Arsenal from the Black Cats in 2017, highlighted the importance of keeping all the women’s leagues competitive.

“I’ve been to a few games in the Championship this season, I obviously follow Sunderland still and they’re top at the moment so hopefully they can keep themselves there,” she said.

“It’s amazing to see how much talent is coming through and the backing these clubs in the lower leagues are getting from the men’s side of things.

“That’s what we want to keep doing, we want to keep every league as competitive as possible and make England still one of the best leagues in the world.”

Beth Mead was celebrating the launch of this year’s McDonald’s Fun Football programme, available to all children aged 5-11 across the UK. Sign up now for your nearest FREE session at mcdonalds.co.uk/football.

Sarina Wiegman said England’s trip had yielded “many positives” after the team concluded their double-header of friendlies in southern Spain with a 5-1 win over Italy.

Four days on from the 7-2 defeat of Austria at the Estadio Nuevo Mirador in Algeciras, another thumping victory for the Lionesses at the same venue began with Lotte Wubben-Moy heading her first international goal in the opening minute.

Lauren Hemp extended the lead with a brace, the second via an excellent header, and after Michela Cambiaghi pulled a goal back for Italy in stoppage time at the end of the first half, substitutes Ella Toone and Rachel Daly completed the rout in the second half.

Boss Wiegman told ITV: “I think the whole camp, a lot of things pleased me.

“I think we had the opportunity to play many players…see what the level was, that was exactly what we wanted, see players in some positions and the connections between players, and then the competition.

“And when you have then such good wins as we had tonight and last Friday, that’s really nice too of course.”

Next up for England are the opening Euro 2025 qualifiers in April as Wiegman’s side begin the journey of defending the title they won on home soil in 2022.

When asked if the camp had given her the answers she needed ahead of the matches in April, Wiegman said: “You never know, because things in football can change so quickly, but it gave us many answers on questions we had at this moment.

“We could take this opportunity to see so many players and play two very good games, train also, see the under-23s (who joined the senior team on the trip). So just very many positives about this week.”

Those positives for Wiegman – who saw Leah Williamson withdraw from her original squad due to injury and Fran Kirby do so between the two matches – included debuts being made by 20-year-old Grace Clinton, a goalscorer in the Austria match, and Millie Turner introduced as a substitute against Italy.

On Arsenal defender Wubben-Moy, after her 12th senior appearance for the team, Wiegman said: “I think she’s definitely taken a step forward because she’s developing a lot and very good.

“That’s what we see weekly at Arsenal and that’s what she shows here too. What you can (also) see is the competition in the position is just really high.”

Wubben-Moy heading in from an Alex Greenwood delivery was an early example as England – on a night that saw them also make some notable errors at the back – demonstrated the problems they can cause from corners.

Wiegman added: “We are always working on it. We had a little more emphasis on it, we had a little more time this week.

“So it’s really good to see that it had so much effect and hopefully we can do that again in the following games.”

England head coach Sarina Wiegman believes her side have “moved on” from the heartbreak of missing out on Olympic qualification.

The Lionesses face Austria on Friday and Italy next Tuesday in a pair of friendlies which have replaced what they hoped would be Nations League semi-finals.

A 6-0 thrashing of Scotland looked to have secured top spot in Group A1 in December, only for the Netherlands to score twice in added time against Belgium to pip England on goal difference and end Team GB’s hopes of qualifying for Paris 2024.

“This is really the start of our Euros campaign and after the very disappointing result of not qualifying for the play-offs to qualify for the Olympics we moved on,” said Wiegman, whose side will bid to defend their European title in Switzerland next year.

“This is the start, with two friendlies which is really good for us because we can try out some things.

“We are also very close to the Under-23s [also training in Spain] so we can see them, we can connect with them and we get a lot of players that we can see where they are at this moment.

“This is a great start because in April the Nations League starts which are the qualifiers for the Euros.”

Euro 2022-winning captain Leah Williamson had been named in Wiegman’s squad for the first time since suffering an anterior cruciate ligament rupture, but the Arsenal defender withdrew with a hamstring injury on Sunday.

Asked if club coaches had requested a limit on player minutes amid a three-way Women’s Super League title race and a spate of high-profile injuries, Wiegman said: “Not this time.

“We are in contact with each other all the time, we update each other and of course we know how important the Women’s Super League is too but also the German League for Georgia [Stanway] and the Spanish league for the players who play in Spain at the moment.

“Of course, we want to take care of the players but we want to do lots of things. We play to win but we also have the opportunity now to try out things and also manage minutes. With a busy calendar I think that’s something to be aware of.

“The issue of injuries is a bigger picture and it’s about the load on the players. The calendar we talk about a lot, that we really have to address the calendar. I spoke up about that last week – we really ask FIFA and UEFA to change things.

“But we are doing a job as good as possible with all the expertise we have in our team and staff. We have a programme and we monitor the players really well.

“You’re in an environment where an injury can happen because it’s a physical sport, but if you can diminish the risk of injuries as much as possible, that’s also what we try to do.”

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