Defender Abbie Magee says Northern Ireland must use their landmark appearance at Euro 2022 to inspire future generations by showing that “anything is possible”.
Kenny Shiels’ side will face the former world champion from Norway on Thursday night in Southampton in what will be a first major tournament for the women’s team.
Northern Ireland are the lowest ranked nation in the competition and face a considerable challenge to emerge from a group that also includes Austria and hosts England.
Cliftonville player Magee is determined to seize the opportunity to make a lasting impression on the youngsters of her homeland, including traveling fans.
“Obviously we’re talking about leaving a legacy, but we’re going to have a lot of people coming here to support us,” the 21-year-old said.
“Maybe we didn’t have fans before.
“We’re just going to go out and do our best, like we always will. But it’s just showing the girls and boys at home that anything is possible; Northern Ireland can reach major tournaments – I think that’s important.
“They’re looking for your autograph, they want a picture of you and they want to be you and it’s just amazing that we’re going to leave a legacy after this tournament and inspire more girls to play for Northern Ireland.”
Northern Ireland, ranked 47th in the world, qualified for the competition by beating Ukraine in the play-offs and will play each of their Group A matches at St Mary’s Stadium.
Magee insists the team cannot be intimidated by the scale of a landmark campaign and must harness any nervous tension.
“It’s been a bit of a surreal time for us,” she said. “We had our suits on and looked the part when we went to the airport. The cameras were there too, which we’re not used to.
“When we landed I think it really hit us that we were at a major tournament but obviously we can’t be shocked why we are here; we are here to play games and we want to make a good game.
“Right now we are ready to go. I don’t think we need more time or preparation. I think it’s the perfect time to show everyone what we do.
“The nerves are good, it means you care and you want to perform, so we have to use that, and the excitement will hopefully help us as well.”
Norway boast the talents of 2018 Ballon d’Or winner Ada Hegerberg and present a tough opening challenge.
Northern Ireland striker Emily Wilson believes prolific Lyon striker Hegerberg, 26, is one of many threats in the opposition ranks.
“She’s a top player and she’s had a lot of success in her career, but we want to focus on the team, it’s not just about individuals,” said Wilson, a Crusaders player. 20 years old.
“She’s a great player – one of the best – and she can create a lot of things in the future, so we have to make sure we know that and are prepared for it.
“But they also have great quality all over the pitch.”