Williamson set for ’emotional’ England return against Ireland

England captain Leah Williamson will make her Lionesses return on Tuesday against the Republic of Ireland after a year-long absence from the national team following an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury.

Sarina Wiegman confirmed on Monday that the 27-year-old centre-back will start in the Lionesses’ second game of their Euro 2025 qualifiers.

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Williamson was named on the bench for England’s 1-1 draw with Sweden on Friday at Wembley Stadium but was an unused substitute despite Wiegman confirming she was fully fit after the match.

“Yes, it will be [emotional], it was emotional on Friday,” Williamson told a news conference on Monday. “I’m an emotional person; we’ve all seen me cry on many occasions. It was emotional on Friday even because if there’s a team you want to be in in the world, England would be right up there. I love playing for England.

“I just live and breathe it. I love playing for England, but I love watching England, so I’m not a calming presence as I’m probably known for on the pitch, not on the sidelines.”

Williamson was recalled for the previous February camp for warm weather training in southern Spain and friendlies against Austria and Italy but was forced to withdraw after a minor hamstring issue.

“I think everything happens for a reason. This is obviously the path I was meant to be on. February would have been lovely to return to the squad, but I’m not complaining now,” she said.

The Arsenal vice-captain last featured for England in their 2-0 loss to Australia on April 11 2023 before suffering her injury on April 19 in Arsenal’s 1-0 loss to Manchester United in the Women’s Super League.

Williamson was ruled out of the 2023 World Cup after leading the Lionesses to their first major trophy at Euro 2022.

Despite being unable to feature in the tournament, she travelled to Australia to support her teammates, using her return to the Lionesses as a driving force in her nine-month-long rehab.

“I think who I am on the pitch is exactly who I was off the pitch. I don’t think I was a calming presence for anyone, especially. But I’ve enjoyed watching the girls and being a part of that journey in a different way.

“Obviously, I’ve got people that play for the team that are very important to me but it’s been a difficult journey.

“I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t what I had my focus on; this is where I was trying to get back to. I wanted to get back into this squad because I’ve had some of the best memories of my life as part of this team.”

Whilst Williamson admitted her return to the squad has been an emotional one, she said she has relished the chance to see England’s continued success from the sidelines after their Euros triumph.

“I’ve loved getting to know the girls I haven’t played with before. The environment is still a nice one to be in, which is great news, coming back in.

“In the last year, I think, we weren’t lucky; we worked hard for it, but in 2021, 2022, things really went our way. We played such high-level stuff, and it felt at the Euros like everything we touched was golden.

“We went to the World Cup, and there were so many different challenges, different teams and the World Cup was a bit more of a crazy environment and we found a way to win every time, so I think we’ve seen different styles to England over the last couple of years and we’ve seen a team that shows they can be competitive against everyone when we’re at our game.

“I think we’re impressive to watch, so I think that’s the difference that I’ve seen, coming back in, the competitiveness and the want to be better within the squad is still the same.”