Northern Ireland Women manager Kenny Shiels has conceded defeat in the quest to make it to next year’s World Cup ahead of taking on free-scoring England.
The Green and White Army retain a miniscule chance of overhauling the Lionesses at the top of Group D but are just three points behind second-placed Austria in the battle for a play-off spot with three games to go.
However, with minnows Luxembourg, Latvia and North Macedonia providing little competition for the top three, Shiels has thrown in the towel regarding making it to the finals in Australia and New Zealand following Friday’s 3-1 loss away to the Austrians.
The 65-year-old is instead viewing Tuesday’s game in isolation and says it would be an “unbelievable achievement” to defeat England in front of an expected crowd of around 16,000 at Windsor Park in Belfast.
“This is not a must-win game because qualification is out of the equation,” said Shiels.
“If we won by five goals, that would be different. But we’re being realistic and we’re not expecting that to happen.
“If we were to beat England, it would be an unbelievable achievement in itself, in isolation to the group.”
England have a 100 per cent qualifying record and are almost certain to top the group after hitting a remarkable 63 goals without reply.
Northern Ireland were beaten 4-0 at Wembley back in October having been level until the 64th minute.
They are eight points adrift of the leaders, while last week’s damaging 3-1 defeat in Wiener Neustadt put Austria in pole position to claim the runners-up spot.
Shiels’ side complete their campaign away to Luxembourg and Latvia in September but, before then, are scheduled for another meeting with England on their major tournament debut at this summer’s European Championship.
Captain Marissa Callaghan says Northern Ireland will take a positive approach against Sarina Wiegman’s visitors, with one eye on the future.
“These are the games you dream about,” said the 36-year-old midfielder. “Every player is looking forward to it and will give it their all.
“We have fantastic players in our squad: game changers and goal-scorers. Who knows what can happen?
“But the big thing is it’s going to be great preparation for going forward and we have a lot to look forward to.
“We took them on at Wembley, so why not take them on at Windsor? We know England are a fantastic side but so are we.
“We go out with a positive attitude, we go out to win games, score goals, defend for our lives, we’re taking this occasion on. I think it’s fantastic for the whole country.”
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