Gemma Grainger's Cymru have enjoyed a perfect start to 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup qualifying with a maximum return of six points from their opening two games as the side prepare to take on Slovenia and Estonia.
2023 FIFA Women's World Cup Qualifying Round
Cymru v Estonia
- 19:15 Tuesday 26 October
- Cardiff City Stadium
- Tickets available here
Cymru are currently level on points with Group I favourites and current leaders France as they head to Lendava on Friday (22 October) to take on a Slovenian side who have already claimed a comfortable 4-0 win over Estonia. However, the side also showed their credentials for producing a potential upset in the last round of fixtures when France needed an injury-time penalty to edge a 3-2 victory.
Slovenia took the lead against the odds through Lara Prašnikar before a brace from Marie-Antoinette Katoto put France ahead. Mateja Zver thought she had earned a valuable point for Slovenia with her 88th minute penalty, but France eventually won the close contest when Amel Majri converted from the spot after being brought down in the area in the final moments.
Prašnikar had scored twice for Slovenia a few days earlier in the victory over Estonia, with Lana Golob and Sara Agrež also on target for the visitors in Parnu. Estonia would also suffer a home defeat against Cymru in their second match as an early goal from Natasha Harding completed a memorable week for Grainger and her squad. The return match against Estonia takes place in Cardiff on Tuesday (26 October).
Grainger's first competitive match as Cymru manager took place prior to the win over Estonia as the side dominated for long periods against Kazakhstan at Parc-Y-Scarlets in Llanelli to claim an impressive 6-0 victory. Harding was again on target alongside Rachel Rowe, Gemma Evans and Ceri Holland, while Kayleigh Green scored twice to make it a resounding victory.
“I feel like we have set a standard, our standard,” said Grainger after the convincing win. “One of the things we want to do is keep delivering to our standards in every single game. It meant the world to have my family there, the players' families there and most importantly the fans there. I am just so pleased that we could put on a performance like that for them.”
On the same night France were making very light work of Greece in Patras as a hat-trick from Katoto was complimented by goals from Majri, Kadidiatou Diani, Viviane Asseyi, a double from Grace Geyoro and an own goal from Grace Palama before captain Wendie Renard converted an injury-time penalty to make it 10-0 to the visitors.
Despite the defeat and the scoreline, Greece responded with a 3-2 victory over Kazakhstan in their second group match. Anastasia Spyridonidou scored twice either side of an own goal from Aigerim Aitymova, but Kazakhstan showed their character and kept the match in the balance through goals from Svetlana Bortnikova and captain Begaim Kirgizbaeva.
On Friday, France play their first home match of the campaign when they host Estonia. Meanwhile, Kazakhstan will take on Greece and Slovenia face Cymru. The Group I action then continues on Tuesday when Cymru meet Estonia at the Cardiff City Stadium, while Kazakhstan take on the difficult challenge of France and Greece host Slovenia in Larissa.
The 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup finals will take place in New Zealand and Australia. For European qualification, the nine group winners will automatically qualify for the finals while the nine runners-up will compete in the play-offs that will take place in October 2022, with a further two teams directly progressing to the finals via that route. A third team from the UEFA play-offs will then compete in the inter-confederation play-offs, which will be a tournament of ten teams from the six FIFA confederations to decide the remaining three places.