Cymru manager Gemma Grainger has targeted a place at UEFA Women's EURO 2025 having agreed a two-year contract extension to lead the national team through the next two qualifying campaigns.
“I'm still passionate about our long-term plan and what we have to do here so it was a very easy decision,” Grainger explained to the media on Monday. The new contract extends Grainger's tenure through to the 2027 FIFA Women's World Cup having narrowly missed out on a place at the tournament that will take place in Australia and New Zealand this summer with a play-off defeat to Switzerland last October.
“We got close to World Cup qualification but close isn't good enough for us,” she added. “We're ambitious, I'm ambitious, and we want to make sure that this team can fulfil their potential and qualify for that first major tournament. It's about looking forward to the EURO qualifying campaign now and we don't want to leave any stone unturned. Our ambition as a team and my ambition as a coach is that we continue to build on that momentum.
“My long-term plan and focus is here. The contract extension is great for me and it's a sign that the players and staff here are right on track so that's a real positive for us. My mind is completely focused on getting into one of the 16 places for the Euros. We're currently ranked 21st in Europe so we know it's a challenge but we believe we can do it. This group of players are passionate about representing their country, but we don't underestimate how fine the margins are for qualifying.”
Grainger was appointed as the successor to Jayne Ludlow in March 2021 and there has been significant progress both on and off the field since she arrived. The Red Wall have embraced her attacking philosophy and positive approach with record attendances at the Cardiff City Stadium supporting her side throughout the last qualifying campaign. Meanwhile, the rise in the profile of the women's game has seen a huge increase in participation levels across the country, and Grainger is excited about the future and what her side can achieve.
“We as a team know why we do what we do,” she explained. “We want to make real meaningful social change in Wales. In the last three years, participation has gone up by 52% and that figure is outstanding. Ultimately, in years to come, that's going to serve the national team well. In the last campaign we broke the attendance record three times and we want to continue to drive that because the impact we can have on young girls and boys in this country is something we are very passionate about. My decision to stay here is as much about the on pitch work as it is about the off pitch work.”
Over 15,000 fans were in attendance at the Cardiff City Stadium in October as a solitary goal from Jess Fishlock defeated Bosnia and Herzegovina 1-0 in the play-off semi-final. Although the campaign would eventually end in heartbreak, it is clear that Cymru are close to reaching the finals of a major women's tournament for the first time. “We want to dream big and we think we can sell out the stadium in Cardiff,” added Grainger. “We also want to take the team around Wales and I think you will see us doing that this year. We want to go to other areas of the country for people to come and support this team.”
The side return to action in February when they head to Spain to compete at the Pinatar Cup tournament with fixtures against the Philippines, Iceland and Scotland. The new UEFA Women's Nations League will then take place between September and December with qualifying for the EURO 2025 finals scheduled for early 2024.