Euro Under-21 qualifying draw brings excitement for Matty Jones
Cymru U21 head coach Matty Jones says there were plenty of learnings from his first UEFA European Under-21 qualifying draw and now he can't wait to get his side's campaign under way.
Jones was at UEFA HQ in Nyon, Switzerland for the first time on Thursday as the draw took place for 2025 Euro Under-21 qualifying. Cymru, who were in Pot 4, were drawn in a five-team group with Lithuania, Iceland, Denmark and the Czech Republic, who will play in the finals of the 2023 edition later this year.
"It was an experience that I've never been through, but luckily we've got some good support staff around me to be able to help me throughout that process," said Jones following the draw.
"It's been wonderful for us all as a small staffing group coming out here and having the experience collectively. We've been able to collaborate with many of the associations and I think the last couple of days have been creative in the way we've engaged with others. It's enabled me to come away with some learnings and vast experience from some wonderful people in the game.
"When you're sitting there reflecting on who you potentially may want in each pot, it's very difficult to decide yourself so it's a case of it being in the lap of the gods. I suppose you have to accept the fact that you're going to be against better quality at times and then lower-ranked teams, so I suppose the ultimate thing for us is to achieve what is important to us. It's exciting for us that we've got the fixtures and the vision moving forward in terms of what our future looks like."
A meeting with the fellow nations in Group I took place following the draw in Nyon to determine the dates for the qualifiers, which will be confirmed in due course. Jones is satisfied with the schedule that lies ahead for his side and says the planning can now begin for the qualifying journey.
"I've learned that we've got to be strong in the scenarios when other nations are trying to determine what's best for them. Naturally, we need to do what's right for us as well, so I tried doing it by sticking to our FAW values by being respectful but also professional with our approach.
"From the list of objectives I had going into the meeting, 90% of them were achieved and that was in an intense environment. I was pleased and thankful that we've come out of there dictating what's best for us and our players."
It will be a new-look U21 squad hoping to take Cymru to their first finals tournament following a fourth-place finish in their last qualifying campaign.
Jones took charge of the side for the first time in a friendly against Austria in September 2022 and handed 12 players their debuts for the under-21s. While the squad has another camp to look forward to in March to aid preparations for the qualifying campaign, which begins later this year.
"There's much work being done in the background and a lot of foundation put in place with this group of players," he added. "We had contact with the players in September and we'll have that again in March, so it gives us perfect preparation to go into the qualifying campaign. This is the start of the journey, so let's hope it can be an exciting and successful one for us and the players."
Cymru will look to be one of 15 teams emerging from qualifying to join hosts Slovakia in the finals tournament in summer 2025.