Francis Benali believes Phil Neville’s trophy-winning knowhow can transform England Women into champions as St Mary’s prepares to host the new head coach’s first home game in charge.
Neville has been getting his first taste of leading the Lionesses this week at the prestigious SheBelieves Cup in the United States.
But it will be Saints soil that stages his home bow, when England entertain Wales in a vital 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup qualifier on Friday 6th April.
Neville won six Premier League titles, three FA Cups and the Champions League under Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United.
And Benali believes his fellow former left-back’s experience of winning silverware can not only help the Lionesses reach next summer’s showpiece in France, but go all the way and win their first major trophy.
“Phil is such a well-known and respected figure that his name alone will excite the players,” said the Saints legend.
“He has that experience of winning the biggest tournaments time and again. That experience is what they need. They came so close by reaching the semi-finals at the Euros last year but the next step is winning the World Cup.
“Firstly, they have to get there and that is why this game is so big, but Phil’s job is to take them further and get them the World Cup.
“At Southampton, we had Alan Ball and Graeme Souness as manager and from a player’s perspective, when you see someone who has won things take charge, it is massive.”
Tickets are selling well for the Wales clash and Benali believes the fans are in for a treat.
The Lionesses have won all three Group 1 matches to date and are second, a point behind their home nations rivals but with a game in hand.
“There is always an extra edge when England play Wales,” he added.
“Everything will be left out on the pitch.
“But there is more than just bragging rights on the line here – it’s about getting to the World Cup.
“I think any international fixture at a venue like St Mary’s is an exciting one. It generates interest in the area as well as across the country and internationally.”
England face Wales in a FIFA Women’s World Cup qualifier at St Mary’s on Friday 6th April (kick-off 7pm). Tickets, priced £10 for adults and just £1 for concessions, are available to purchase online or by calling 02381 780 780.