FORMER Sunderland defender Steph Houghton cannot wait to lead England Ladies out at Hartlepool United’s Victoria Park on Sunday (2pm).
The friendly clash with Sweden is the “perfect test” ahead of England’s final two World Cup qualifiers, according to Houghton, from South Hetton.
Captain Houghton, who now plays for Manchester City in the FA Women’s Super League, said: “It’s probably a perfect test for us ahead of the Wales qualifier (when one point will guarantee England’s place in the World Cup finals).
“We’ve got a team full of world-class individuals and as a team we want to be playing against those types of players.
“It’s about a winning mentality.
“The games we go into we want to win and we want to win well and we want to perform, it’s all about playing for your places still.”
The former Sunderland defender insists that, although it is a friendly by name, it will still be a competitive encounter.
“It’s important that when we’re in training it’s really competitive and we take that into the game, especially on Sunday,” added Houghton.
“They’ve got players that can win football matches.
“Lotta Schelin plays up front for them and she’s been a massive name in women’s football for a good few years.
“They’re direct, they’re quick, skilful – a mixture really – and I think it’s about how we cope with that both tactically and technically. It’s also about how we move the ball and defend as a unit.”
Houghton, who left Arsenal to join newly formed Manchester City back in January, admits that leading her country out in front of a local crowd will be an honour, but she insisted that attention will quickly shift to the task in hand.
Houghton added on the FA’s website: “All the North East girls have been pushing for a fixture up north for a long time and it obviously makes it a lot easier when your friends and family can come and watch you play.
“But the most important part of it is the actual game. We’re playing Sweden and it’s going to be a good test for us and hopefully we’ll have a big crowd coming to support us.”
The england squad also features ex-Sunderland players Jill Scott, Jordan Nobbs, Demi Stokes, Lucy Bronze and late call-up Carly Telford.
The Lionesses have been training at St George’s Park in preparation for Sunday’s fixture against the side who sit fifth in the FIFA rankings.
Tickets are on sale now, priced £5 for adults and £2.50 for children. A family ticket (two adults and two children) is available at £10 by calling (01429) 272584 (option 2), via TheFA.com’s ticketing page or at the Hartlepool United ticket office.