A feature on how England’s fortunes at UEFA Women’s EURO 2017 could inspire Wales.
Despite a committed effort in the second half of the qualifying campaign, Wales failed to reach the finals of UEFA Women’s EURO 2017. There was no disgrace for Jayne Ludlow’s side in failing to make amends for a disappointing start, as the side were very much a work in progress at the start of the qualifiers, and over the course of the competitive games they showed enough quality to suggest that these players have the potential to eventually emulate the fortunes of Chris Coleman’s side and qualify for the finals of a major tournament.
The focus for Wales now switches to the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup qualifiers that start next month in the footballing outpost of Kazakhstan, and while England come later in the campaign, the Lionesses have shown the way to a brighter future for the women’s game in Wales. Just like the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada, the England women’s team won over the hearts of a nation this summer, with the lack of alternative football diverting the interest of the average armchair fan to events in the Netherlands that culminated with a deserved win for a hosts just over a week ago.
— Mark Sampson (@Mark_Sampson) August 3, 2017
The Netherlands defeated England comfortably to book their place in the final, and while it was a disappointing and frustrating end to the tournament for the Lionesses, the fact that a UK audience of over four million people watched the match confirmed that there is a significant interest in the women’s game. Harnessing and building on that interest is the next stage in the project for the Football Association, and while Wales can only sit, watch and hope to hang onto the coattails of this latest achievement, it confirms that qualifying for the finals of a major tournament would change the landscape of the game in Wales forever.
— Lionesses (@Lionesses) August 3, 2017
Ironically, England’s new-era has been masterminded by Welshman Mark Sampson, and while the Cardiff-born coach’s approach to matters both on and off the field may not be considered conventional to all, they have proven to be effective. Like Sampson, Jayne Ludlow is a young and ambitious figure who has taken a holistic role to managing all age groups within the Welsh international setup, and significant progress has been made since her appointment at the end of 2014. Success will inevitably define how their respective tenures will be remembered, but having changed the entire culture, attitude and professionalism, these are two Welsh coaches with serious ambitions of making a big impression on the women’s game.
— Natasha harding (@tashharding09) July 11, 2017
And they have both been heavily supported by their employers, with the English FA ploughing millions of pounds into the women’s game each year. The figure invested by the Football Association of Wales is less in value, but not necessarily in terms of overall turnover, and there is clear long-term backing to the women’s football project in both nations. The England squad have become household names over the course of the last few weeks, and young girls now have female football idols to emulate as they take to the field in increasing numbers up and down the country every weekend.
The main aim now is to make the likes of Tash Harding, Sophie Ingle and Jess Fishlock the first names young girls in Wales associate with football, and while there is still much work to do, there is significant progress being made. Women’s football will always have its critics, but there is now more of an open appreciation for the game as a separate sport, and it is important that the comparisons made against the men’s game become less and less. Few players will be able to match the strength or speed of their male counterparts, and there are specific elements of the game that will need to improve.
— Wales Women’s Team (@FAW_Womens) August 10, 2017
For example, goalkeeping at the recent EURO finals was not at the level you would expect it to be, while bad decision making in the final third resulted in too few of these occasionally vulnerable goalkeepers being tested. These are the issues that the technical observers will take away and monitor in the coming months, but the tactical maturity and technical progression shown must be considered as huge positives when reflecting upon the finals as a whole.
The focus for Wales now turns to Kazakhstan, and a strong start against the group minnows is vital. The Welsh squad is an exciting one, and there is no doubt that they have been inspired by the fortunes of Chris Coleman’s side and what they achieved in France last summer. Although 2019 is a long way away in the football calendar, Wales have shown enough progress under Ludlow’s command to suggest they will be a much stronger animal by the time the finals come around, and this could indeed be their time to shine.
— Wales Women’s Team (@FAW_Womens) August 3, 2017