Lionesses to play first match of EURO 2021 at Old Trafford

England Women will play the opening match of EURO 2021 at Old Trafford in what head coach Phil Neville has called a 'brave and unbelievable correct decision by the FA'.

With 500 days to go until kick off, the FA has today released the full match schedule, which begins when England open the competition at the Theatre of Dreams on 7 July.

Lionesses manager Phil Neville poses with the Euro 2021 trophy outside of Old Trafford

Old Trafford has a capacity of 74,879, providing England with the opportunity to break the attendance record for a UEFA Women’s tournament – the current record of 41,301 was set at the 2013 Final in Sweden – and the World Cup attendance record of 57,900, set at the 2019 Final in France.

Baroness Sue Campbell DBE, the FA’s Director of Women’s Football and UEFA Women’s EURO 2021 board member said: 'The confirmation of Old Trafford as the iconic venue for England’s opening game shows just how big our aspirations for UEFA Women’s EURO 2021 are.

'As a proud host nation, our aim is not only to deliver a record-breaking tournament, but also to ensure that it provides a tangible legacy in terms of growing the women’s game.'

Old Trafford start, Wembley finish

The 13th edition of the tournament will feature 31 matches over 26 days of competition with over 700,000 tickets available and coverage of every game due to be freely available on TV, radio and online.

90,000 of those tickets will be available for the final of the competition, due to be played at Wembley Stadium on 1 August – allowing for another record breaking attendance, and meaning that the venue will host back-to-back men's and women's European Championship finals in 2020 and 2021. Campbell said: 'Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the Lionesses, opening the games at Old Trafford, finish them off at Wembley and win the tournament in 2021.'

The Euro 2021 trophy at Wembley stadium

Wembley will host the final game of EURO 2021, offering hosts England the chance to break the attendance record for a UEFA Women's tournament.

England's route to the final will first take them via Brighton & Hove Community Stadium and Southampton's St. Mary’s Stadium where they will play their other group stage fixtures.

The other six grounds to host fixtures are Bramall Lane, Brentford Community Stadium, Leigh Sports Village, Manchester City Academy Stadium, New York Stadium and Stadium MK.

Home tournament pressures

On the pressures of a home tournament, Neville said: 'I heard stuff the other day about having a Euros in your home nation and the pressures, expectations of that and all those negative things.

'But it’s at home, we should be seeing it as a massive advantage for our players to go out there with 75,000 England supporters.

'What we have to do now – which started in Middlesbrough in terms of our programme over the next 12 months – is to expose our players to big occasions so when they come to Old Trafford it’s just like another occasion.

'It’s like going into your grandmother’s front room, having a cup of tea. That’s how it should be.'

Neville is of course no stranger to Old Trafford, having spent the bulk of his playing career there with Manchester United. He said: 'It doesn’t get much bigger than managing your country at a home EURO and to have the opportunity to do so at a stadium that holds so many memories for me is huge.

'Old Trafford has a special place in my heart, but it is also one of the country’s most iconic football grounds, so today’s announcement is a significant one for the tournament.'

'If you want to play for England and be successful, these [big games at big stadiums] are the days, the types of occasions that you should be excited about, motivated for and dream about.'

England manager Phil Neville poses with the Euro 2021 trophy at Old Trafford

England Women's Head Coach Phil Neville spent 11 years playing at Old Trafford for Manchester United

England previously hosted the Euros in 2005. The games were played in the North West and the final, which Germany won, was contested at Ewood Park in front of a crowd of 21,105.

Since then the tournament has doubled in participants, with 16 teams competing instead of eight, and continued to attract increased interest.

The next step in UEFA's plans

The plans for the 2021 competition are the next step in what Nadine Kessler, UEFA Head of Women's Football, describes as the organisation's plans to 'grow the base, to develop the elite end of the game, have more women in football and change perceptions, do more for players across Europe.' On EURO 2021, she said: 'This is what women’s football deserves. To play in such stadia is what you strive for - as a player, coach, referee and a fan.'

'Our goal is to deliver a memorable tournament and inspire the next generation of football-loving girls and boys.

'Knowing The FA and England’s long-term commitment to the women’s game, we have no doubt that we will achieve this together and set a new European benchmark.'

'From our [UEFA's] perspective, it’s really important to stress that we would like to transmit the message across Europe and use the women’s Euros in terms of how we see women’s football, how we develop it continuously.'

Kessler was part of the Germany team that won the competition in 2013, playing in the record breaking final. Germany had a disappointing tournament in 2017, exiting the competition at the quarter final stage – the Netherlands went on to win.

Who will compete in EURO 2020 is yet to be seen: the qualifying group stage will continue until September of this year, with the play-offs due to take place in October. The final draw will then be held on 6 November.

England qualify automatically as tournament hosts, and though their focus at present is on next month's SheBelieves Cup with the 2020 Olympics also on the horizon, the players are already looking forward to EURO 2021.

England and Arsenal midfielder Jordan Nobbs said: 'The whole tournament is exciting for us, let alone it being at a major stadium like that [Old Trafford].

'Every time we play at a big stadium or Wembley it’s another amazing time for the women’s game or us as players to look forward to.'

EURO 2021 venues: Bramall Lane, Sheffield; Brentford Community Stadium, London; Brighton & Hove Community Stadium, Brighton & Hove; Leigh Sports Village, Wigan & Leigh; Manchester City Academy Stadium, Manchester; New York Stadium, Rotherham; Old Trafford, Trafford; Stadium MK, Milton Keynes; St Mary's Stadium, Southampton; Wembley Stadium, London.