Leah Williamson relishing England fight for places ahead of France double-header

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Leah Williamson says she is ready to fight for a place in England’s backline for the double-header with France, beginning with Friday night’s clash at St James’ Park.

England boss Sarina Wiegman could pair Euro 2022-winning centre-backs Williamson and Millie Bright together for the first time since February last year, with both having recovered from knee injuries.

Arsenal defender Williamson and Chelsea’s Bright have not started together for their country since a 6-1 demolition of Belgium at Ashton Gate.

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However, Williamson, who suffered anterior cruciate ligament damage in April last year, is taking nothing for granted as she chases a return to the line-up for the Euro 2025 qualifiers against France, with central defence an area of strength for the Lionesses.

Williamson said: “It’s the first time that, obviously, me and Millie have been back in the squad together for a long time, so it’s been nice in that regard.

“I think we’ve got a really strong unit – I mentioned coming back into the squad about how well they’ve performed and how they’ve raised the level, so it’s good to be back.

“It’s a competitive unit to try to get into. I’ll look forward to the challenge, I think, as everybody does.”

James ruled out of double-header

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Sarina Wiegman says that it’s too early for Lauren James to face France in England’s Euro 2025 qualifier, due to an underlying foot injury

Wiegman and England were dealt a huge blow ahead of the double-header after Lauren James was forced to withdraw from the squad.

The 22-year-old attacker reported for international duty with a foot injury and has had to admit defeat in her efforts to prove her fitness ahead of Friday Group A3 fixture at St James’ Park and the trip to St-Etienne which follows on Tuesday.

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Wiegman, who confirmed Tottenham’s Jess Naz had been drafted into the squad from the stand-by list, said when asked if everyone was fit: “No, not everyone is available for selection.

“Lauren James didn’t make it, so she’s not selected for tomorrow. Jess Naz will be added to the group.

“She already had some foot problems at her club, so she came in and we hoped that we could build to tomorrow, but just too early, so unfortunately she can’t stay with us.”

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Asked if that would apply to the return in France, Wiegman added: “Yes. She’s going to get prepared for the July window.

“Of course, it’s a disappointment. We did everything, she did everything, it’s just too early now and it’s not good enough. You have to be really top, top fit to get ready for tomorrow.

“For her and for the team, it’s unfortunate. For Jess, she’s ready, she’s shown good stuff this week in training and with her club, so we have to move on.”

Bright: Win over France would be huge

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Millie Bright accepts she will have to fight against stiff competition to start for England against France on Friday after returning from injury

Bright insists victory against France would be a statement win for this England side.

“It would be huge,” she said. “It’s an extremely competitive group, and France are an incredible team and pose a lot of threats.

Millie Bright

“But there’s a lot of things that we can do to put the threats on them. We have to be extremely prepared. We know it’s going to be two tough games.

“But it would be a massive message and, as always, we don’t go out for anything other than wins and a good performance.”

Women’s Euro 2025 qualifying: New format explained

England Captain Leah Williamson Lifts The Arnold Clark Cup Trophy After Their 6-1 Win Over Belgium

Taking inspiration from the Nations League, qualifiers were split into League A, League B and League C, based on their Nations League rankings.

England have fixtures against Republic of Ireland, France and Sweden to look forward as they begin the defence of their trophy.

As with a usual Nations League or European Qualifying campaign, each team will play each other twice – once at home and once away – in a table format.

The top two teams from each of the League A groups will automatically qualify for Euro 2025.

The third and fourth-placed teams will then enter the play-offs, alongside teams from League B and C.