Estonia arrive in Wrexham on Friday, 6 March (19:00) for a women's international friendly as Cymru continue their preparations ahead of the return to UEFA Women's EURO 2021 qualifying in April.
Cymru v Estonia
- Friday 6 March 19:00
- Racecourse, Wrexham
- Tickets available here
Cymru currently sit in second place in Group C in qualifying at the midway point, and take on the Faroe Islands and Norway at Rodney Parade in Newport over the Easter weekend in what will be a crucial double-header. Ludlow has named a mix of youth and experience in her squad for the Estonia match, although midfielder Jess Fishlock will remain in the United States to continue her rehabilitation from a long-term injury.
“We will be coming up against an organised side,” explained Jayne Ludlow to FAW.cymru at the recent squad announcement. “That sort of challenge will be very important to us as we prepare for the remaining games in this campaign. For us, there's a lot of work we need to do to prepare for us for those last qualifying games, and this type of camp allows us to mix things up.” The squad will train at the new facility at Colliers Park ahead of the match.
But while the focus will be very much on preparing for the next qualifiers, there will be a familiar face in the Estonia ranks, as they are currently managed by former Cymru boss Jarmo Matikainen. The popular Finnish coach played a significant role in taking women's football in Wales to a professional level during his tenure between 2010 and 2014, and also made a huge impression on his successor as Ludlow made the transition from player to coach under his guidance.
“Jarmo has had a huge influence on my coaching career,” said Ludlow. “When I stepped-up from being a player to a coach it was a challenging time, and what he provided me with were opportunities to learn. He gave me the opportunity to lead the U19's and be involved in the U17's, and I really appreciated that. In fact, I still appreciate it. It helped me learn in a challenging environment.
“He was a good coach to learn from, and his acknowledgement of what the international environment was with Wales was really important. He put realism into my expectations, as when you start out as a young coach you think that you're just going to win every game, without any long-term thought process. Jarmo helped me look at things differently.”
But while Matikainen played a key role in Ludlow's coach education, the contribution of the current Estonia manager to women's football in Wales cannot be understated. “Jarmo made huge changes in a short period of time,” added Ludlow. “It was a very amateur environment with a quick changeover of coaches, very little strategy in how we played as a team, or how players were brought in. That wasn't due to any person not doing the required role, it was because the association didn't provide those roles at the time.
“Jarmo was the first person to be given the full-time responsibility of managing our women's teams, and he was really influential in bringing professionalism into the environment, as well as raising expectation levels that we hadn't had in the past. He also played a massive part in the development of a number of the older players in the squad now, who were at an important stage of their careers back then.”
Over 1,300 tickets have been sold in the build-up to the friendly against Estonia, and that is testament to how the female game has grown in north Wales in recent years. It is an area of progress and development that the national team are keen to embrace. “It's important for us to move around when we have the opportunity to do so,” explained Ludlow. “It's about building a fan base, and ensuring that we are visible to people. It's a great opportunity to do that. Hopefully, wherever we play in the future, those fans will follow us.”