Sarina Wiegman: England ‘did know there were probably going to be less fans’ after just 949 spectators show up for Algeciras friendly

After recording an impressive 7-2 victory over Austria in Algeciras on Friday, England prepare to face Italy on Tuesday to wrap up the February international window. Sarina Wiegman addressed the media to preview the upcoming clash, offering an update on injuries within the squad.

Manchester City’s Chloe Kelly is expected to return to the squad against Italy, after missing out against Austria. Wiegman insisted that Kelly was ‘was flying in training [on Sunday] so hopefully that’s what she will do today, and she will be ready for tomorrow.’

But as one player returns from injury, another has departed the camp. Chelsea’s Fran Kirby has returned to the club’s training ground for assessment, with Wiegman explaining that ‘she has some irritation on her knee’ following an injury sustained during Friday’s warmup.

‘It’s a minor injury,’ she continued, ‘but we didn’t want to take any risks so she’s being assessed at club and we don’t expect it to be a bad injury.’

Ahead of the Austria match, Wiegman afforded Bristol City’s Naomi Layzell the opportunity to train with the senior squad. The Lionesses U23s have also travelled to Spain, and Wiegman cites the camp as ‘a really great opportunity to come together.’

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Aggie Beever-Jones and Laura Blindkilde Brown, of Chelsea and Manchester City respectively, have also enjoyed the chance to train alongside their senior counterparts. Wiegman explained that ‘we are in the same hotel and we have a very good relationship with the U23s. We follow them very closely.’

‘[Sunday] was another opportunity to give them the experience to play and train with the seniors. It was for us an opportunity to see where they are at. It was good, they enjoyed it.’

There has been criticism over the decision to host both of England’s friendly fixtures at a neutral venue in Algeciras though, given the boom in popularity that the Lionesses have enjoyed since lifting the EUROs on home soil.

The Estadio Nuevo Mirador has a capacity of 7,200 – a far cry from Wembley Stadium’s 90,000 which has started to sell out regularly when the Lionesses take to the pitch. But there were just 949 fans inside the ground on Friday, with the stadium’s rather remote location leading to hefty travel costs for most supporters.

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Wiegman explained that the decision was made to ensure that the players could benefit from the warmer weather on the Iberian peninsula, even though that would result in a much smaller crowd.

‘We want good friendlies in good circumstances – so we have very good pitches here [in Spain], the weather is always nice so we can stand still a little bit and have good training sessions.’

‘We did know there were probably going to be less fans than we would have hoped,’ she acknowledged. ‘There were fans here on Friday and they enjoyed it. I hope the fans at home watching it enjoyed it too.’

‘We will be back home in April, June and July [for EURO2025 qualifiers] and the rest of the season we will play a lot in England so I hope that connects with the fans enough,’ she said.

England will play their second match of the international break on Tuesday, as they face Italy at the Estadio Nuevo Mirador in Algeciras. The Azzurre were held to a goalless draw in Firenze by Ireland last week, with Liverpool’s Leanne Kiernan seeing a controversial goal disallowed for an apparent offside.