These are exciting times for women's football in Wales, and while the progress made by Jayne Ludlow's senior side has been more than apparent, attentions now turn to the next generation as the Under-17 side head to Bosnia and Herzegovina to compete in the UEFA Elite round qualifiers.
UEFA Women's U17 Championship
Elite Round (Hosts Bosnia and Herzegovina)
- 20 March - Norway v Wales
- 22 March - Denmark v Wales
- 25 March - Wales v Bosnia and Herzegovina
Wales qualified through the opening qualifying round for the first time in their history last October, and will now take on Norway, Denmark and host nation Bosnia and Herzegovina in what is expected to be a very testing week of football for the talented young side. Wales qualified behind group winners Germany thanks to an opening day win over Turkey and a draw against hosts Latvia. Alice Griffiths, Ffion Morgan and Grace Horrell scored Wales' qualification goals, and all three players have been included in the final squad. Last month Wales played two friendlies against Hungary in Merthyr ahead of the tournament, and despite a 4-1 defeat in the first game, a 2-1 reverse in the second match should plenty of defensive improvement and the side will take positives from scoring in both games and learning from their mistakes in the opening match.
“They are some very talented individuals in there,” explained Jayne Ludlow recently when asked about the success of the young side. “But the thing that really stands out about that group is how they work as a group, and how collective they are. Things we're doing off the pitch alongside what we are doing on the pitch are showing results. Again, there's work to do, but qualifying for the Elite round is something we haven't managed to do before, and they are groundbreaking in that sense. For us, going to the next stage is to ensure we enjoy every minute of it. It's going to be a fantastic learning environment and we are going to come up against some really top level teams who are going to really give us great competition.”
It's going to be a fantastic learning environment and we are going to come up against some really top level teams who are going to really give us great competition.
Bronwen Thomas and Amina Vine are included in the squad, and have recently enjoyed senior international experience at the Cyprus Cup tournament as part of a calculated plan that Ludlow believes will bring plenty of benefits in the future. “One of the things we've been able to do is impact younger players within the international setup,” Ludlow explained. “We're seeing the fruits of that already with the Under-17 team. We want to go out there and compete and learn something from every game we play. And if we take what we learn forwards then by the time these players are senior internationals then it will be a completely different picture for us as a national team because these players, prior to getting into the senior team, would have played numerous games at international level. It's something that people might not realise will have huge implications on the future. The things they learn when they step on an international pitch are very different to what they learn in youth football in any country. It's a massive challenge but an enjoyable one as well.”
Opponents in profile – Norway
The Norwegians cruised through qualification with a perfect record in Group 4 and did not concede a single goal in the process. The country have been a steady trajectory of progression at this level over the course of the last few years, their recent highlight was to finish third in last years finals. Vilde Birkeli scored four goals in three qualifying games for Borje Sorenson's side, while Mathilde Alsaker Rogde and Malin Sunde both scored twice as they side reached the Elite round stage.
Opponents in profile – Denmark
Like Norway, Denmark also claimed top spot in their qualifying group with a perfect record, and manager Danny Jung will be keen for his side to progress past the Elite round after exiting the competition at this stage in each of the last three years. Striker Dajan Heshemi was the leading scorer in qualifying with three goals in as many games, but the side conceded goals against Slovakia and Switzerland in process.
Opponents in profile – Bosnia and Herzegovina
A 4-1 defeat against Austria was the only dent in Bosnia and Herzegovina's qualifying record, but the side did enough to qualify for the Elite round as runners-up in Group 11 and now have the advantage of hosting the next stage of the competition. Both Maja Hrelja and Andrea Gavric scored three goals each for Ilija Lucic's side during the qualifying stage, but having conceded heavily against Austria there will be concerns over their defence.
Group 2 Fixtures - UEFA Women's Under-17 Elite Round 2017
Norway v Wales (Sarajevo) and Bosnia and Herzegovina v Denmark (Kakanj)
Norway v Bosnia and Herzegovina (Kakanj) and Denmark v Wales (Sarajevo)
Wales v Bosnia and Herzegovina (Sarajevo) and Denmark v Norway (Kakanj)
All matches are 80 minutes each.
The competition begins with one-venue four-team mini-tournaments, although the nations with the highest UEFA coefficient may be given byes to the second qualifying round. The winners and runners-up of the groups go through along with the required number of third-placed teams with the best record against the first and second-placed teams, to ensure there are 24 sides in the next phase.
The 24 teams are drawn into six groups of four teams. The groups are played as one-venue mini-tournaments with the winners and the runners-up with the best record against the teams first and third in their section progressing to the finals to join the hosts.
The eight teams are split into two groups of four. The top two in each group go through to the knockout phase, beginning in the semi-finals.
IN FOCUS with Helen Ward | Bronwen Thomas