Fran Kirby and Keira Walsh withdraw from England squad

England captain Steph Houghton has made 99 appearances for her country

England manager Phil Neville has “banned” captain Steph Houghton from playing against Austria on Thursday so she can earn her 100th cap at home three days later against Sweden.

Neville said he wanted the occasion to be a “celebration” of her international career on home soil in Rotherham.

“Steph won’t be involved on Thursday. She wants to play but we told her no,” said Neville.

Striker Fran Kirby and midfielder Keira Walsh miss out through injury.

“I wanted to make Sunday a special day because she [Houghton] has earned it,” said Neville. “She deserves it so she will be rested and it can be a celebration of her England international career.

“She actually doesn’t want it to be about her because she is so humble and she wanted to make her 100th cap in Austria. But we have almost banned her from playing. It is very doubtful she will even be on the bench.”

Barcelona winger Toni Duggan will captain the side in Houghton’s absence, while Chelsea’s Karen Carney and Manchester City’s Mel Lawley replace injured duo Kirby and Walsh.

Kirby, who has been nominated for Fifa’s Ballon d’Or award, scored in England’s 1-0 win over Brazil and the 1-1 draw with Australia last month.

Since making her debut in 2005, forward Carney has earned 134 caps.

Midfielder Lawley broke into the England team just over a year ago and will be hoping to add to her nine caps.

Neville has three new faces in his squad for the friendlies, including former United States Under-23 forward Chioma Ubogagu, who is on loan at Brisbane Roar from Orlando Pride.

Manchester City forward Georgia Stanway and goalkeeper Ellie Roebuck have also made the squad for the first time.

‘She doesn’t realise the respect she has’

Toni Duggan played at Everton and Manchester City before signing for Barcelona in 2017

Duggan, signed by Barcelona from Manchester City in July 2017, became the first English player to join the Catalan club since Gary Lineker’s move to the Nou Camp in 1986.

The forward has 58 caps, the latest of them in the 1-1 friendly draw with Australia in October, and is expected to be an integral part of Neville’s World Cup squad this summer.

The 27-year-old will captain England for the first time against Austria on Thursday and Neville says she is yet to “realise the kind of respect she has” among her team-mates.

“It is a challenge for Toni,” said Neville. “When I first saw her, I saw an experienced player with great knowledge and underneath it all, a great leader.

“I felt as if this was the right moment to say well done. To captain your team is an honour. I wanted to send a message to her that she is one of the most important members of my team and the look in her eyes was a special moment. She is really looking forward to it.

“She doesn’t know what to do and doesn’t know her responsibilities but I told her just to wing it.”

Special moment between Neville siblings

Neville linked up with sister Tracey to combine his training camp this week with her Commonwealth gold medal-winning netball squad.

The Lionesses’ boss described it as a “proud moment” when he spoke in front of his sister and revealed both teams played football, netball and tennis together and “didn’t want to leave”.

The idea was discussed over lunch but Neville admitted he originally agreed only “to pacify Tracey” and was “worried” about how both teams would act when they came together.

We have both been on similar paths,” said Neville. “What I wanted was for them to tell us their journey and how they became the best netball team in the Commonwealth.

“The power in the room, the confidence and the leadership was incredible. The players didn’t want to leave each other. They were dancing and singing. The spirit between them both and the respect… two of the best sports team in the country were in the room and it was a special moment to share that with my sister.

“When I stood up to speak and she was looking right at me, it was a proud moment. The evening went really well. We learnt a lot about each other’s company and culture.”

Phil Neville’s England football team teamed up with sister Tracey Neville’s England netball team at a training session last week

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *