IN FOCUS | 2019 Women's World Cup rivals
International
27 April 2017

IN FOCUS | 2019 Women's World Cup rivals

The headlines inevitably centred upon Wales joining England in 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup qualifying Group 1 following Tuesday's draw in Nyon, but there will be other familiar opponents and logistical challenges for Jayne Ludlow and her side to navigate past if they are to achieve their dream and qualify for the finals in France.

The qualifying campaign will start with two away games later this year as Wales head to Kazakhstan and Russia in September and October respectively. Wales were paired with Kazakhstan in qualifying for 2017 UEFA Women's EURO, which was also manager Jayne Ludlow's first campaign, and the side claimed two 4-0 victories to complete the double over their lower-ranked opponents.

The opening match against Kazakhstan took place in November 2015 at Haverfordwest, and substitute Helen Ward proved to be the second half hero as the striker came off the bench to score a hat-trick after Natasha Harding had opened the scoring. It was Wales' first win of the campaign and provided Ludlow and her side with a huge lift heading into the second half of fixtures.

The return match against Kazakhstan took place in April 2016 and it was Ward who again impressed with a brace of goals. Her efforts were matched by Kayleigh Green as she added two goals of her own to make it an impressive double over the Kazakhstan side. Despite their defensive frailties, Kazakhstan did finish off the bottom of Group 8 in qualifying as they stayed above Israel.

Unsurprisingly, Kazakhstan's only victory in qualifying came against Israel, and as the lowest-ranked side in Group 1, Wales will be confident of repeating their achievements of the last campaign in their opening game. A much more difficult proposition presents itself in the shape of Russia in Wales' second match. However, having qualified for the EURO's, the Russian side will be fully-focused on events in the Netherlands this summer before they even think about entertaining Wales in October. 

It is the third EURO in a row that Russia have qualified for, their fifth in total, and they reached the finals as one of the six best runners-up despite only winning half of their games in Group 5. The added logistical challenges of heading to Russia will also increase the difficulty factor of this fixture for Wales, but the opportunity to watch Russia compete in the Netherlands will offer Ludlow and her staff valuable insight into their strengths and weaknesses.

A double-header for Wales in November will see Ludlow's side play their opening home match in the return fixture against Kazakhstan, before they make another challenging journey to Bosnia and Herzegovina a few days later. Despite failing to qualify for the EURO's, Bosnia made things difficult for England in their qualifying group, as Mark Sampson's side could only register two 1-0 victories.

Although Sampson will not complain about his side claiming six points and boasting clean sheets from the two qualifiers, the results show that the side have a defensive resilience that Wales will need to get the better of if they are to end the first part of their campaign on a high.

The action then resumes in April 2018 when Wales make a much-easier journey logistically to England to take on the Lionesses. The two sets of players will be very familiar with each other from their domestic football, and the fact that England are managed by Welshman Mark Sampson only adds to the interest in the fixture. 

Like  Russia, England will be in action in the Netherlands this summer as they look to build on what was a relatively successful 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup finals for them in Canada, and the top seeds will be clear favourites to repeat the qualification feat in 2019. Wales and England were also paired together in the last Women's World Cup qualifying campaign, with England claiming 2-0 and 4-0 victories, the latter at Cardiff City Stadium effectively ending Wales' chances of qualifying after an impressive run of results under former manager Jarmo Matikainen.

The fixture doesn't need much fuelling, but a number of current Wales players were also involved at the time and will remember the disappointment of missing out on a place in Canada, and the latest round of competitive games between the two nations will offer them the chance to make amends. Meanwhile, Wales benefited from playing their final three EURO qualifiers at home, and have the same luxury this time around as they end their campaign by hosting Bosnia, Russia and England. 

 FIFA WOMEN'S WORLD CUP QUALIFYING GROUP 1 FIXTURES

17 September 2017

 Kazakhstan v Wales

 

24 October 2017

 Russia v Wales

 

24 November 2017

 Wales v Kazakhstan

 

28 November 2017

 Bosnia and Herzegovina v Wales

 

 6 April 2018

 England v Wales

 

7 June 2018

 Wales v Bosnia & Herzegovina 

 

12 June 2018

 Wales v Russia

 

31 August 2018

 Wales v England

 

The seven group winners will qualify to join host nation France in the finals. The four runners-up with the best records against the sides first, third and fourth in their groups will advance to the play-offs, which will consist of two rounds of two-legged knockout ties in October and November 2018 to decide Europe's last qualifier. The qualifying round will take place between September 2017 and September 2018.

FAW_Womens_Group_Timeline_1200x630 copy.jpg