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Hege Riise urges England’s women to be bold on visit to France 

Hege Riise has instructed England to be both brave and precise in their first match on foreign soil for more than than a year against France in Caen on Friday night. “I want them to always look for an opportunity to go forward,” the Lionesses’ interim coach said. “And, when we do so, to be accurate in our movement and passing.

“France have speed and smartness so it’s a balance for us to manage the game defensively but also be brave enough to attack them. We want to go after France and prove ourselves.”

Corinne Diacre’s squad are ranked third in the world while England have dropped to sixth but a Covid outbreak in the host camp which, at one point, afflicted at least 10 players and staff has disrupted French preparations.

With coronavirus cases rising in France some observers have questioned whether England’s venture into a country subject to lockdowns and night-time curfews is wise. Riise, though, is desperate to test the Lionesses squad against high-calibre opposition as she finalises the party of 18 players heading for the Tokyo Olympics this summer.

The game on Friday and a fixture against Canada at Stoke on Tuesday represent a final chance for the former Norway captain to make vital assessments. Riise seems particularly keen to see England’s former first-choice goalkeeper Karen Bardsley in action after a near two-year injury-induced absence.

“These back-to-back games, and the need to recover quickly between them, are probably the closest we can now get to replicating the Olympics,” said Riise, who must name her Tokyo-bound Great Britain squad next month. “We’ll see how we can deal with two games close together and there are also certain players I want to look at.

“We’re aware of the [Covid] situation in France but we’re so careful I feel kind of safe. It [the risk] hasn’t been a huge discussion. We are eager to play this game. It’s been a long time since we had strong, difficult opponents and we will see our character, where we are and what we need to do to go forward.”

Riise has been boosted by Nikita Parris’s late arrival in the England fold after the Lyon forward tested negative for Covid following a period of self-isolation. “Nikita’s a key player and she’s brought such energy,” she said. “It’s good to have her with us.”

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