The international Year in Review
International
22 December 2017

The international Year in Review

It would prove to be the year that marked the end of an era for the Wales national team as manager Chris Coleman stood down from his position after failing to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. 

However, while the men's team regroup and prepare to build for the future, Jayne Ludlow's women's team have stormed to the top of their World Cup qualifying group, and can look back on 2017 with nothing but pride for the progress that has been made.

The international action of 2017 began on St. David's Day as the women's team headed to the Cyprus Cup looking to build on the strong finish to the previous qualifying campaign.

Although Jayne Ludlow's side had failed to qualify for the 2017 UEFA Women's EURO finals in the Netherlands, there was an optimism for the start of World Cup qualifying later in the year, and the Cyprus Cup offered a timely opportunity to address some of the defensive frailties that had proved so costly in the last campaign.

Goals from Helen Ward and Charlie Estcourt gave Wales the perfect start against Hungary, and the opening day victory was followed with a 0-0 draw against the Czech Republic and a narrow 1-0 defeat against the Republic of Ireland in Group C.

A play-off against Scotland would decide their final place in the tournament, and after playing out a 0-0 draw, Scotland eventually claimed the win following a penalty shoot-out which would leave Wales in sixth place. 

However, conceding just one goal in open play over the course of four difficult games offered a huge boost for the side ahead of the draw for the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup draw that would take place the following month. 

A further boost followed with the news that talismanic midfield Jess Fishlock had committed herself for the next qualifying campaign, and her dedication to Wales was rewarded in April when she became the first Welsh international to earn 100 caps in a friendly against Northern Ireland at Ystrad Mynach. Fishlock fittingly marked the occasion with a superb goal in the 3-1 win.

VICTORY AND A GOAL FOR FISHLOCK ON APPEARANCE 100
VICTORY AND A GOAL FOR FISHLOCK ON APPEARANCE 100

But March would also be a crucial month for Chris Coleman's side as they made the short journey to Dublin for a vital World Cup qualifier against the Republic of Ireland.

A campaign already affected by injuries and suspensions to key players, defender Neil Taylor was shown a straight red card in the 0-0 draw while Gareth Bale picked up the yellow card that would keep him out of the next match against Serbia in June.

Coleman remained defiant about his teams chances, and a penalty from Aaron Ramsey rounded off a superb performance from the Arsenal man in a 1-1 draw in Belgrade.

With no European Championship to prepare for in the summer, Jayne Ludlow took her side to Portugal and the Netherlands for a series of summer friendlies, and the quality of opposition would show the players exactly the sort of level they would need to get to in order to reach the finals of a major tournament for the first time.

An impressive 2-1 win over Portugal was followed by a heavy 5-0 defeat to eventual European champions the Netherlands, but the education offered would prove important to the squad as they prepared for their opening World Cup qualifier against Kazakhstan in September. 

The month of September would prove to be a key part of 2017 for both of our senior national teams.

A 1-0 victory over Austria at Cardiff City Stadium kept Colemans' side in contention for World Cup qualification, and the fact that the only goal of the game was scored by teenage debutant Ben Woodburn offered a timely boost for the players and fans alike. Woodburn again impressed from the bench a few days later in Moldova, creating the opening goal for Hal Robson-Kanu before Ramsey made the points safe in injury-time.

BEN WOODBURN SCORES ON WALES DEBUT!
BEN WOODBURN SCORES ON WALES DEBUT!

Meanwhile, Ludlow's side made the long journey to Kazakhstan for their opening World Cup qualifier in September, and it was Fishlock who ensured that the side would claim maximum points with a superb volley that would prove to be the difference between the two sides. 

KAZAKHSTAN V WALES | MATCH DAY
KAZAKHSTAN V WALES | MATCH DAY

A 0-0 draw against Russia would follow in October, and the feel-good factor extended to the men's team as Tom Lawrence scored the only goal of the game in Georgia to set-up a decisive match against the Republic of Ireland in Cardiff a few days later. 

It would prove to be a frustrating night for Wales. Already without the injured Gareth Bale, an early injury to Joe Allen proved crucial as the visitors began to get a hold on the game, and a goal from James McLean in the second half would bring Wales' World Cup dreams to an end.

Coleman remained coy on his future in the immediate aftermath of the defeat that had denied his side a place in the play-offs, and while the players rallied in support of the manager that had proven that anything is possible at UEFA EURO 2016, the reality of missing on a place at the World Cup finals began to sink in.

But there was an increasing optimism surrounding the women's team, and having enjoyed a positive start to their World Cup qualifying campaign, there was an increased interest in the fortunes of the side as they prepared to take on Kazakhstan at the Cardiff City Stadium in November.

The side left it late, but a goal from Hayley Ladd sparked celebrations amongst the 3,000 fans in attendance and ensured a well-deserved 1-0 win. 

WALES WOMENS 1-0 KAZAKHSTAN
WALES WOMENS 1-0 KAZAKHSTAN

A few days later the side headed for Bosnia and Herzegovina, and an even more impressive result and performance followed.

Striker Kayleigh Green scored the only goal of the game, but a late penalty save from Laura O'Sullivan would prove just as decisive as Wales held on for the 1-0 win, and now head into 2018 top of Group 1 ahead of next opponents England and are yet to concede a goal in four games.

The defensive focus at the start of the year has certainly worked for the side, and with the final three games of the qualifying campaign to be played at home, there is an excitement building around the future of the women's international game. 

In addition, the men's team have every reason to look forward to a brighter future, and the November friendlies against France and Panama will be remembered for Ethan Ampadu and David Brooks making their international debuts.

Although Chris Coleman eventually left his position shortly after the two games, he leaves his successor with a young and exciting squad of players ahead of the next qualifying campaign.

DIOLCH CHRIS
DIOLCH CHRIS

Meanwhile, the men's Futsal team began 2017 by hosting the UEFA Futsal qualifiers, and despite a heavy 6-1 defeat to Moldova in their opening, the side regrouped to beat San Marino 8-1.

The final match against Greece ended in a 2-2 draw, and hosting the competition offered a number of fans the opportunity to take in this exciting version of the game for the first time. 

The side ended the year with a 8-0 win over Northern Ireland in the Home Nations Championships in Scotland.

Jayne Ludlow's side now return to 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup qualifying in April against England at Southampton, but the new men's team manager will have the opportunity to make a big impression when the side head to the China Cup in March.

In addition, the inaugural UEFA Nations League competition will take place in 2018, promising more competitive international football than ever before ahead of the draw that takes place on 24 January.