Sarina Wiegman sounded the starting gun on a race against time as she named her first squad since being installed as England’s new manager last week.
The former Netherlands coach avoided radical change, instead opting for a blend of youth and experience as she begins preparations for both next summer’s delayed home European Championship and the 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
While 16 of the Great Britain squad which reached this summer’s Olympic quarter-final are included for the forthcoming World Cup qualifiers against North Macedonia at Southampton and Luxembourg away, there are also recalls for Lucy Staniforth, Mary Earps and Beth Mead.
An infusion of youth has left Manchester City’s Esme Morgan and Manchester United’s Katie Zelem aiming to win their first caps and Racing Louisville’s Ebony Salmon her second.
“While we have a few injuries to contend with I’m extremely excited by the young talent we’ve called up for this important camp,” said the 51-year-old, who has named Arian Veurink as her assistant. “I can’t wait to see what we can all do together to bring success to England.”
Wiegman, who led the Netherlands to Euro 2017 glory and the 2019 World Cup final, takes over at a moment of paradox. Although the domestic women’s game in England is enjoying unprecedented television exposure, the national team has slumped to its lowest Fifa ranking for eight years.
Three years ago the Lionesses occupied second position but they have now slipped to eighth and the challenge facing their new coach is considerable.
After reaching three successive major semi-finals under Mark Sampson and then Phil Neville, results deteriorated during the final stages of Neville’s tenure and a currently injury-hit squad is now in transition.
While five Manchester City players – Lucy Bronze, Karen Bardsley, Keira Walsh, Ellie Roebuck and Chloe Kelly – are currently absent, Bronze is the biggest loss.
Yet even without the talismanic right-back – currently recovering from the fifth knee surgery of her career – it would be a major shock were the Lionesses to stumble against either North Macedonia, who are ranked 131st in the world or the 122nd-placed Luxembourg.