The countdown is almost over for the Lionesses' long-awaited return to action, with Hege Riise’s side set to host Northern Ireland at St George’s Park on February 23, almost a year since their last match against Spain at last year’s SheBelieves Cup.
The pandemic quickly brought the international game to a halt and friendlies against Germany and Norway after football returned both had to be postponed due to coronavirus-related complications.
For Manchester City defender Alex Greenwood - who is hoping to win her 47th senior international cap against Northern Ireland - the chance to put on the famous white jersey once more has been a long time coming.
“I can't wait to put on an England shirt again,” said Greenwood. “It's been a long time, but I think that makes it more enjoyable. Maybe sometimes I take putting on an England shirt for granted, which is something we should never do.
“To go 12 months without a competitive fixture has been hard as a squad. It's been difficult to go to training camps and not really have an end goal - apart from trying not to finish on the losing side in training!
“I can't wait for the team to get back together and to actually put some things on the grass into play in the game on Tuesday.”
Since that 1-0 defeat to Spain, there have been numerous changes in the England setup. The upcoming match will be the first since Phil Neville’s departure, with former Norway international Riise now acting as interim head coach.
Due to Covid-19 restrictions Riise has had little time to interact with the players face-to-face, but Greenwood explains that the 51-year-old has already made her expectations and ambitions clear.
Greenwood said. “She's not going to pick the squad lightly, she’s going to look at everyone without judgement, which I think is a good thing for all of the players.
“Then, a big target is to go to the Olympics and medal, absolutely. For us as a squad, we’re all aiming to go and win gold in Tokyo.”
— Lionesses (@Lionesses) February 18, 2021
There is a blend of youth and experience in the current England team, with 20-year-old Bristol City forward Ebony Salmon - who Greenwood knows from the pair’s time at Manchester United - among those looking to win their first senior cap.
“I played with her a couple of years ago and [she was] such a raw talent even then,” Greenwood said. “She had an exceptional turn of pace and her finishing was quality, she just probably lacked a bit of experience at the time.
“She was probably a little bit immature when I knew her as a footballer, not as a person, but when I watch her now and I see what she's done away from the pitch and her hard work, I’m not surprised at where she’s got to.
“She’s certainly not easy to play against, but I still think there's so much more to come from her. There are things she can still improve on but it is testament to her hard work that she’s got herself into the England squad.”
Away from the national team, Greenwood made the move from Lyon to City last summer, where she insists the whole squad have already learnt huge amounts from American World Cup winners Sam Mewis, Rose Lavelle and Abby Dahlkemper.
Greenwood said. “They're serial winners. Even in training they have high standards, high demands of not just the team but of themselves which is brilliant.
“It's good for the young girls on our team to see as well what it takes to be as successful as they are. They’re all fantastic people first and foremost, but their mentality and ability on the pitch is amazing.”
This year, Greenwood has transitioned to play in a central role as well as in her usual position as a left-back, complementing City’s preference to build from the back and allowing her to play long balls across the pitch.
The 27-year-old believes the versatility which she has shown this season is something that could act in her favour when it comes to selection for the Olympics.
“I think it does help,” Greenwood added. “It's not something I've gone in and said I need to do, the positions just fell upon me as I signed for City.
“[Manager Gareth Taylor] has been brilliant with me, he's outlined his expectations of me as a centre-back, as a left-back and I think in our team it's quite easy to adapt to both positions, and I’ve really enjoyed it.”