Wales missed out on qualifying for the UEFA Women's EURO 2017 finals that take place in the Netherlands in July, but now have the opportunity to test themselves against the hosts, and with it soak up the experience of the finals of a major tournament in the process.
THE NETHERLANDS v WALES
- Saturday 8th July 2017
- Kick off 16:00 local time
- Sparta Stadium, Rotterdam
Jayne Ludlow's 26-player squad head to the Netherlands next weekend for A and B team friendlies that will will form part of Wales' preparations for the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup qualifiers that start later this year. The opening A team match takes place at the Sparta Stadium in Rotterdam on Saturday, 8th July before an experimental B team head to the KNVB Campus in Zeist the following day. Wales start their 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup qualifying campaign away to Kazakhstan in September before taking on Russia, Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as rivals England in their remaining Group 1 fixtures.
The two fixtures follow on from the recent friendlies against Portugal which resulted in a victory and a defeat. Wales won the opening friendly against Portugal 2-1 through goals from Bristol City defender Hayley Ladd and Reading's Melissa Fletcher. It was Fletcher's first international goal and sealed a memorable victory against a side that had qualified for the UEFA Women's EURO 2017 finals. As expected, Ludlow made a number of changes for the second match, and there was a welcome return to action for Rhiannon Roberts following a long-term injury. However, Wales slipped to a 1-0 reverse, but it again proved to be a constructive learning experience for the squad and the younger players that featured.
“We were playing against a team who are on the up,” explained Ludlow after the opening victory. “They have qualified for a major competition for the first time in their history and for us to come out here and compete as well as we did, I'm really happy. We need to adjust structurally to ensure we get a little bit more of the ball but it could have been a 2-0 result against one the top teams. It’s a great result for us, two goals and a win. The really nice thing about the game and all the games we’ve been playing recently, we can make changes and the girls that are coming in are doing the jobs that they need to do for us. As a squad, as a team, it’s developing us, and we’re growing.”
A number of youngsters are again included in the squad this time around, and this is again testament to the pathway system that has been introduced across the intermediate teams, and how successful it continues to be. In addition, two players from the Orchard Welsh Premier Women's League have been included, as Cyncoed Ladies duo Alice Griffiths and Gwennan Davies rub shoulders with the rest of the senior squad. The call-up rounds-off a hugely successful season for Griffiths after she was named as the WPWL Young Player of the Year in the recent awards evening, while Davies has been called-up previously, and clearly impressed to find herself involved again.
Peyton Vincze of Oklahoma FC was a new face in the squad for the friendlies against Portugal, and is expected to feature once again next weekend following her elevation to the senior squad. Vincze made her first appearances for Wales by coming off the bench in both games, and will be keen to make another positive impression this time around. “It was a great experience and I'm honoured to be part of the Welsh team,” said Vincze after her debut. “It's a big jump to the seniors, there's a lot more intensity and the work rate is higher.”
Dutch women's football legend Sarina Wiegman is the head coach of the national team, and made history by becoming the first person to play 100 games for the Netherlands. Wiegman took charge of the national team in January and will be looking to improve on the sides last EURO finals in 2013 when they failed to make it out of the group stage. However, the side reached the semi-finals in 2009, and reached the last 16 at the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup. A team packed with experienced and a number of players that play professional football in England, these fixtures will be a key part of their preparation for a tournament they will be desperate to impress in.
As the host nation, the Netherlands were exempt from qualifying for the UEFA Women's EURO finals, and will open their tournament campaign against Austria on 16th July before taking on Denmark and Belgium in Group A. Austria qualified for the finals at the expense of Wales, confirming their place with a 0-0 draw against Wales in Newport to bring the qualifying campaign to an end. The celebrations that followed certainly acted as an incentive for Wales, and heading to the Netherlands in the build-up to the finals will surely have a similar impact on an impressionable and ambitious squad that are very much heading in the right direction under Jayne Ludlow.