Northern Ireland v Malta: Euro 2025 qualifying 'really exciting' - Tanya Oxtoby

Uefa Euro 2025 qualifying: Northern Ireland v Malta

Venue: Windsor Park, Belfast Date: Friday, 5 April Kick-off: 19:00 BST

Coverage: Watch live on BBC iPlayer and the BBC Sport website; live text commentary, report and reaction on the BBC Sport website

Northern Ireland manager Tanya Oxtoby says the start of Euro 2025 qualifying "is a really exciting time for us".

After retaining their place in League B, Oxtoby's side face Malta in their opener on Friday before travelling to Bosnia-Herzegovina on Tuesday, 9 April.

Northern Ireland will then face Portugal in a double-header at the end of May in Group B3.

"We're excited and we want to put in a really strong performance," Oxtoby said.

Euro 2025 qualifying follows a new format that is based off the inaugural Women's Nations League, which took place in the autumn.

Northern Ireland finished third in their group behind the Republic of Ireland and Hungary, and Oxtoby's side retained their League B status for qualifying with a 3-1 play-off victory over Montenegro in February.

With the teams who finish in the top three places guaranteed a play-off for the finals, Northern Ireland will look to get off to a fast start against Malta, who are the lowest-ranked side in the group.

'Sometimes change is good'

Oxtoby made six changes to her squad from the play-off, with goalkeeper Jackie Burns returning from long-term injury and Brenna McPartlan earning a return since her first and only cap in 2017.

London City Lionesses midfielder Connie Scofield is awaiting international clearance, but key defender Sarah McFadden will miss the opening qualifiers through injury.

With so many changes to her squad, Oxtoby said that "sometimes change is good".

"I've learnt a lot about the players and they have learnt a lot about me," the Australian said.

"We are starting to really find our feet in terms of understanding the environment we are trying to create, and what we need to focus on to be able to continue to progress.

"It's really pleasing from that point of view but there is still loads and loads of work to do.

"Every camp there seems to be new faces in, whether that is staff or players. It keeps everyone on their toes. We've said all along that the door is open for everybody, and the players that are coming in have performed."

Brenna McPartlan and Connie Scofield in action
Brenna McPartlan and Connie Scofield are two new faces in Tanya Oxtoby's squad [Getty Images]

Oxtoby added that she "wouldn't be surprised if there was going to be more changes" as he continues to evolve her squad.

"We look at the future of this team, we want to try and play. They will pay a very, very important part in that, and our experienced players play a massive role in that too, in educating them in all they things we are trying to implement.

"I think that is healthy in any high-performing sport, is to have competition for places and make sure you are selecting on form and the strategy of what you are going after.

"I think we are in a really, really good place for that."

For the first time in Oxtoby's tenure, Northern Ireland will play a fixture at home before travelling for an away game, and the former Chelsea assistant manager says that extra day of training will be "a bonus".

"It's great to not have to travel around after just two days of being together.

"We get an extra day on the pitch which is fabulous for us.

"We [Northern Ireland and Malta] are two very evenly-matched teams in terms of in terms of the way we go about our football, so it's going to be a great game. We really hope the home fans come out and really drive us over the line."