Wales feel the “breakthrough moment” in women’s World Cup qualifiers

Wales feel the “breakthrough moment” in women’s World Cup qualifiers

Wales feel the “breakthrough moment” in women’s World Cup qualifiers

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“Here for the time! We’re only here for the time! ” sang the band of Welsh traveling fans on Thursday night in mockery of the sheer grandeur of the match. It wasn’t a classic, but it didn’t have to be.

After a 1-0 win over Greece in hot and thunderous Volos, Wales need only one point in Tuesday’s game against Slovenia in Cardiff to secure a place in the playoffs for the 2023 Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. Having so far only lost to Euros semi-finalist France this season, the momentum is with Gemma Grainger’s side.

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Almost three months from the day after the Welsh men qualified for the World Cup in Qatar, Cardiff City Stadium is ready for another exciting occasion. With 10,000 tickets already sold, doubling the previous attendance record for a women’s game, Tuesday looks like a defining moment for this team.

Players will have spent the summer experiencing the greatest Welsh thrill, the unique disappointment that comes from witnessing a tournament for which they were terribly close to qualifying. With all the inevitability of an exercise bike bought during the lockdown used as a clothesline, Wales lost Euro 2022 under the most heartbreaking circumstances. Finishing third in the group on equal points with Northern Ireland and with a far higher goal difference, they lost by virtue of a worse head-to-head record, as the away goals rule favored Northern Ireland afterwards. a 2-2 draw in Newport before the 0-0 standoff in the return match in Belfast.

Gemma Grainger with her players after the victory in Greece.

Gemma Grainger with her players after the victory in Greece. Photograph: Alkis Konstantinidis / Reuters

Having narrowly lost to France in both World Cup matches this season, this team knows they can compete with some of the best teams in Europe. For such a hungry fan base for success, Welsh fans could be forgiven for setting the women’s Euro 2022 qualifying Group C final table with disbelief as the eyes of the world focused on England this summer. Failure to qualify by virtue of the away goals rule in direct matches. Let’s start again.

A lot has changed since that disappointment. Grainger was named Wales manager in March 2021, after spending 11 years working with the England age group organization. He was part of England’s coaching staff for the women’s Euro in 2017, where England reached the semi-finals.

Grainger can appeal to a team that has a healthy blend of youth and experience, with a talented core of senior players for whom this campaign offers one last chance to qualify for the World Cup. Carrie Jones – the scorer for Thursday night’s winner – is only 19 and her spot in the starting line-up may not have come if Jess Fishlock, who has a record of 119 appearances, hadn’t taken a shot in training.

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It was Jones’s first goal for his country and crowned the beautiful performance of a very exciting young prospect. But a slice of reality mitigated the euphoria she felt in scoring the winner on Thursday when her heartbroken mother tweeted to say she missed seeing him because she had to work a late shift for the NHS. . It is not possible that the person in charge of that round does not understand the extent of the match against Slovenia.

One person who will be there on Tuesday night is Laura McAllister. She is vice-president of the Uefa women’s football committee and was one of the three women who successfully lobbied the Wales Football Association in 1993 to officially create the women’s team (an unofficial team, entirely organized and funded by the players already existed), before switch to team captain. As much as McAllister would like to see established stars like Sophie Ingle, Fishlock and Natasha Harding play at the highest level, McAllister’s experience in sports governance makes her more aware of most of the potential benefits World Cup qualification could provide.

“It’s a moment of total change,” he says. “That’s what we do with the funding and attention to grow the game for all girls. Every single phase needs adequate investments and the only way to do this is to have the World Cup platform, the funding and the attention that goes with it. “

Carrie Jones with Welsh teammates

Carrie Jones celebrates her goal against Greece with her Welsh teammates. Photograph: Alkis Konstantinidis / Reuters

With so many Welsh teams playing across the border in the Women’s Super League, England’s success this summer has given the players even more momentum. McAllister thinks England’s tournament win will help Wales. Bristol City and Wales defender Ffion Morgan described the Lionesses’ victory at the Europeans as “bittersweet”, a sentiment McAllister can appreciate. “I completely understand Ffion’s comments. Because for me too there was a disappointment for not having seen Cymru on the European scene.

“But on the other hand, the success of the tournament has repercussions on all of us in national federations across Europe. But I would say especially for those like Wales, where we already have a very clear strategy on how we develop the game. In a way, this just adds incentive and extra pressure, but in a good way, to get there sooner. “

But Tuesday comes first. Slovenia are third in the group and two points behind Wales after a 1-1 draw in October. Wales will be roared by an expectant, record-breaking crowd whose demographics are changing, which interests McAllister. “Yes, you have the kids, we really pushed it, the clubs and schools are buying blocks of tickets, but there are a lot of men going to the games now, who are just members of the Red Wall – for them, it’s just another. Cymru I play, and I like that normalization.

“I think it’s really important, that the two teams are seen as one in the eyes of the fans. I think Tuesday is a turning point no matter what happens, because the fan base will be representative of what we wanted it to be for a long time.

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