Wales women's captain Sophie Ingle admits to dreaming about what might have been as she soaked up the recent UEFA Women's EURO 2017 finals in the Netherlands recently when she spoke to FAW.cymru about the tournament.
Being in the stadium for the match between England and Scotland, and especially when the anthems started, really made me think that it could be us standing out there.
“How amazing would it be to hear the Welsh anthem in an environment like that! I'm sure the younger players in the squad we're inspired by it too, and hopefully it will be a big motivation for them going forward. We had a taste of it last summer when the men's team went to France and that really made us think about what we could achieve too, so we take a lot of inspiration from all these things.”
Wales missed out on place in the finals despite a strong finish to the qualifying campaign, but it was group rivals Austria that were one of the stand out teams for Ingle as they reached the last four. “It's not just one or two nations that dominate any more, there are several who can make a big impression, and that really showed at the finals. Look at Austria, they qualified from our group to go to the finals of a major tournament for the very first time, and they did extremely well to reach the semi-finals.”
Enjoying her domestic football with Liverpool Ladies in the FA Women's Super League, Ingle is now back in pre-season preparing for the opening day visit to rivals Everton at the end of September, and hopes that the interest created by events in the Netherlands will have a positive impact. “The viewing figures were fantastic and that's something the domestic game in England and Wales has to build on now. There's obviously an interest in women's football to tap into. It's definitely improving, and I hope that we will see a real difference on the back of the tournament this coming season.”
But the focus first turns to international business as the 2019 FIFA World Cup qualifiers start for Wales next month with a tough journey to Kazakhstan. Since Jayne Ludlow was appointed as Wales manager in October 2014, Wales have made significant strides forward both technically and tactically, and for Ingle the tournament showed that this is a common trend across the women's game. “What stood out for me watching the tournament is how the overall quality of every team has improved,” she added. “Maybe in the past teams would have an advantage just from being more physical, but that isn't the case now. Teams are a lot more technical and can adapt their tactics according to their opponents far more effectively.”
A 4-2 win for the Netherlands against Denmark in the final last Sunday confirmed the hosts as European champions. Goals from the impressive Lieke Martens, captain Sherida Spitse and a brace from striker Vivianne Miedema made it a convincing win for Sarina Wiegman's team, who warmed-up for the finals with a convincing 5-0 win over Wales in Rotterdam. Although Ingle was on the wrong end of that heavy defeat, the captain had nothing but praise and admiration for the performance of the Dutch side at the finals.
The Netherlands were definitely deserved winners for me.
“They were the best team at the tournament. They have so much quality in their front three and only conceded one goal before the final.” However, choosing her top three players of the tournament required a little more consideration. “That's a tough one! I think I would have to choose the Dutch duo of Jackie Groenen and the captain Sherida Spitse, and also the Danish captain Pernille Harder. I thought they were all consistently excellent throughout.”
But while the accomplishments and success of the Dutch side made a particularly positive impression, Ingle was also impressed by how the host nation performed off the field. “I was lucky enough to go out there for the England versus Scotland match and the atmosphere was incredible,” she enthused. “It wasn't just for the games involving the hosts either, there were plenty of fans who were neutrals, but had travelled over to experience the whole occasion. It was really amazing to see.”