A blog on the Wales women’s team ahead of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup qualifying draw.
There was an unusual increase in the amount of media interest surrounding Wales latest women’s internationals as midfielder Jess Fishlock became the first Welsh player to make a century of appearances. Fishlock has been a key member of the side for the last decade, and remains committed to the cause despite her playing career taking her across the world. Two 3-1 victories over Northern Ireland made it a memorable week for manager Jayne Ludlow at Ystrad Mynach recently, but more pleasing than the results were the performances of the side that followed on from a positive end to the previous qualifying campaign. Although Wales missed out on a place at UEFA Women’s EURO 2017 this summer, Ludlow’s debut campaign showed clear signs of evolution and progress, and it was fitting that former manager Jarmo Matikainen was present for the opening friendly to see how far his side have progressed.
“The time is flying, because the project that we have here has so many different elements to it that are pleasingly coming together really well,” explained Ludlow. “It’s not just about training camps, it’s about everything we do away from the training camps as well. It’s really pleasing to see the progress of all the groups, some are standing out more than others right now, but all the groups are developing really well. I think the environment we are creating in and around everything we do is really positive and hopefully that will help us to keep building things going forward. There’s still a lot of work to be done in regard to the women’s and the girls game, domestically and internationally, but we’re on a path that seems to be heading in the right direction.”
On Tuesday the draw for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup qualifiers takes place, and it will be a campaign that will define this current generation. Players such as Fishlock, Natasha Harding, Helen Ward and captain Sophie Ingle have seen the progress that has been made under Ludlow, and there is a real belief within the squad that this could be the time for Wales to finally qualify for the finals of a major tournament. The men made history in 2016, and the side have taken clear inspiration from that achievement. The development of the women’s game in Wales in less than a decade has been nothing short of incredible. What started with the full-time appointment of Matikainen has now been taken to another level by Ludlow, and there is a real optimism surrounding the camp that this team can achieve something special in the next qualifying campaign. A kind draw on Tuesday would be of significant help, but Wales will be ready for whatever challenges come their way when the campaign begins later this year.
And the reason for this progress has been the holistic approach taken by Ludlow and her desire to create the right culture and identity for her side. Youth features prominently in her work, and a number of teenage players have been fast-tracked into the squad, and this is a team that now boasts experience above their years. Matikainen laid the foundations in ensuring a new level of professionalism existed within the women’s system in Wales, but his focus was on the short-term, and while he also oversaw the development of the intermediate teams his drive was to reach the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup finals. The team came close to making history, but fell at the final hurdle. However, the campaign gave the players a reason to believe. Ludlow’s appointment in October 2014 signalled the start of a new era, and while her change in approach meant taking an initial step backwards, the side are certainly heading in the right direction and now have an incredible opportunity to make history.
While the results against Northern Ireland will have pleased Ludlow, it was the level of performance that was the overriding positive of the week. Her side have clearly evolved into an attacking force, and the defensive errors that proved costly during the last campaign appear to have been addressed. The side have a clear plan, and their recent fixtures have been arranged for the side to experience playing against a different range of opposition. “These games, like the Cyprus Cup, are huge for us,” explained Fishlock after the opening win against Northern Ireland. “They all give us a different game plan to try and deal with things. Dealing with the directness of Northern Ireland and their physicality is different to dealing with Hungary in the Cyprus Cup and you have to adapt to that. In the World Cup qualifiers we will play against different types of teams and you have to know how to play against them. So all these games are crucial right now.”