Cymru open their 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup qualifying campaign against Kazakhstan in Llanelli on Friday, 17 September (7.15pm) with manager Gemma Grainger ready for her first taste of competitive football with the team.
2023 FIFA Women's World Cup
Cymru v Kazakhstan
- 19:15 Friday 17 September
- Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli
- Tickets available here
“There are players representing Wales across the world now and there's an expectation and ambition that I'm excited about within this group,” Grainger explained to FAW.cymru. “All the players and all the staff are on the same page in that we want to qualify and compete at a major tournament, so the expectation is our ambition. That inspires me and it inspires the whole group. There's a dedication to play for their country, and the ambition to represent Wales at a major tournament is at the forefront of everyone's minds.”
Grainger took charge of the national team in March and has seen her side take on higher-ranked teams in Canada, Denmark and Scotland since her appointment in preparation for this campaign. “I'm excited to go into competition,” she added. “We set a really strong stance around our mentality in the friendly fixtures and I think playing highly-ranked nations really said a lot about our mentality and what we want to do as a team. We will be playing a different type of opposition, but those friendlies have allowed us to learn quickly, and I feel like they have set us up for what we want to do and how we want to play in these qualifiers.”
With Jess Fishlock and Angharad James now playing their club football in the United States and a number of other members of the squad establishing themselves in the WSL, Grainger has monitoring their progress closely and has been working with their respective clubs to ensure that the players are ready for the international challenges ahead over the next few months. “I'm really excited to have players back in. When we finished the June camp it was the end of the season and the opportunity to finish the season off and for the girls to have a break.
“The priority after the June camp was for the girls to have a rest and to make sure that they went into pre-season in a good place. We've spent a lot of time talking to the girls during pre-season to make sure they're in good condition for this camp. There's been a lot of individual management, but we've been making sure that the girls are ok and that we are building those relationships with the clubs, because there are three international windows in quick succession.”
Following the match against Kazakhstan, Cymru head out to Estonia for the second match of the campaign on Tuesday, 21 September in Parnu. The side will then play another four fixtures before the end of November, making this a crucial couple of months in terms of qualification. “We've got a four-year plan in place and the World Cup cycle comes first,” Grainger added. “For us as a group, we're very much looking at the long-term, but we want to compete and qualify for international competitions. We're really focused on what we want to do and we've put a lot of work in and around what this groups about and why we do what we do.
“One of the things that I wanted to do coming into the post was not change everything, but to build on our strengths. So from an out of possession point of view, we will build on the strengths shown in the friendly fixtures and the foundations that were already here. Then, from an in possession point of view, we want to continue to develop that side of play so we'll be very much focusing on that. I'm happy, I think we're in a great position because we've got a mixture in the squad of experience and youth, and the key thing for me will be mixing those things together to have a successful campaign.”
One welcome bonus for Cymru against Kazakhstan will be the return of the Red Wall, and Grainger is keen to experience the atmosphere that can make these international nights special. “The fans give us an advantage,” she explained. “I know how important their support is to me, the staff and the players. They give you that extra edge. We want to do it for them and to make the country proud, so to have the fans with us will certainly make us stronger. I'm really excited to have as many fans as we can in there to support the team.”
The 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup finals will take place in New Zealand and Australia. For European qualification, the nine group winners will 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.
Tickets for the match start at £2 (group bookings) and £4 (individual bookings) and are available at faw.cymru/tickets or at the ground on matchday.