PHIL NEVILLE claims this afternoon’s sold-out crowd at Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium highlights just how far women’s football has come in the last few years – but the England boss wants to ensure the sport gets even bigger by leading his side to victory in Euro 2021.

The Lionesses take on Brazil in the first senior England women’s international to be staged in the North-East, and with every ticket having been sold, a crowd of more than 34,000 is anticipated on Teesside.

That is a remarkable show of faith in both Neville’s team and the state of women’s football in this country in general, with the Lionesses’ run to this year’s World Cup semi-finals having helped cement the sport’s place in the sporting mainstream.

“There’s been a massive momentum shift since the World Cup,” said Neville, who could name up to six North-East players in today’s starting line-up. “People aren’t coming to this game because they’ve been forced to buy tickets, they’re coming to the game because they want to see a group of footballers from Brazil and a group of footballers from England that are at the top of their profession.

“If it was a one-off, you’d maybe think it wasn’t something we could sustain, but at the moment, the crowds are just getting bigger and bigger, and there’s a real thirst for people to come and watch the Lionesses in particular.

“We’re getting good crowds in the WSL (Women’s Super League) and a consistency in supporters turning up to WSL games, but the expectation levels the players are going to be playing at here are even higher still.

“They’re playing at the top of their game in world-class stadiums, that we are literally filling out. We’re playing in stadiums where there are waiting lists to see the Lionesses play.”

With England hosting the next Euros in two years’ time, today’s game forms part of a series of friendlies that Neville will use to ensure his squad retain their match sharpness despite not having to negotiate a qualifying campaign.

“The challenge for the players now is that in just over 12 months, we’ve got the Euros in our country,” he said. “There’s going to be so much expectation on us to perform and win that competition.”