New Cymru manager Gemma Grainger leads her squad into the start of a new era with a tough double-header of international friendlies against Canada (9 April) and Denmark (13 April) in Cardiff.
Cymru v Canada
- 18:00 Friday 9 April
- Leckwith Stadium, Cardiff
Live on BBC iPlayer
Canada and Denmark are respectively ranked 8th and 14th in the FIFA Women's World Rankings, Grainger could not have asked for a more difficult start to her tenure, but is excited of the prospect of taking two leading nations in order to understand more about her squad and begin preparations for the 2023 World Cup qualifiers that start in September. Cymru are currently ranked 31st having missed out on EURO qualification.
“It's so exciting,” explained Grainger to the press when she announced her 26-player squad last week. “The passion and desire in this group of players to represent their country is one of the most exciting things about them as a group. It gives us a foundation to work from as a coaching team. The level of motivation and commitment that these players have is phenomenal and I'm really looking forward to it.”
Canada have qualified for the last seven World Cup finals, reaching the quarter-final stage in 2015 when they hosted the tournament. Managed by former England assistant Bev Priestman, the side have named a strong and experienced squad for the friendly at Leckwith Stadium on Friday, 9th April (6pm), which includes veteran striker Christine Sinclair who has scored 186 goals in an incredible 296 games for her country. Meanwhile, Cymru have named a large squad with the focus on learning as much as possible.
“We wanted to bring in 26-players to see as many players as we could but the key thing for me was to use the knowledge of the previous staff group,” added Grainger. “I know a lot of the players, I've watched them and I know it's a very competitive squad and that will serve us very well in the upcoming fixtures. I've spoken to each player for about half an hour on Zoom, finding out a bit more about them and to answer any questions. It's been a whirlwind, but a really positive whirlwind.”
Cymru include uncapped duo Ceri Holland and Bethan Roberts in the squad, and Grainger is looking forward to working with the pair. “They're two exciting young players and great additions to the squad,” she explained. “Ceri was the Championship Player of the Month and she's having a great season with Liverpool. Bethan is another young player who the coaching staff have spoke highly of regarding her potential, so it's really nice to bring them in at this stage.”
Meanwhile, Denmark boast the services of Chelsea star Pernille Harder in their ranks, and were runners-up at UEFA Women's EURO 2017. Now under the guidance of Lars Søndergaard, the side qualified for EURO 2022 by winning nine of their ten qualifiers to top their group, and will provide another difficult test for Cymru when the two nations meet at the Cardiff City Stadium on Tuesday, 13th April (7.15pm).
“Playing against higher-ranked nations is what we want to do,” said Grainger. “Having these back-to-back games gives us such an opportunity to prepare for the World Cup draw and how we are going to be competitive when those games start in September. The camp objective is for us to learn as quickly as possible, and the learning that we'll get from those two games is absolutely key. We want to be in a position where we can find a way to win against higher-ranked opposition. We want to be competitive and we want to come out of this camp knowing exactly where we are.
“It's about me learning about the players and the players learning about me. But we want to set standards. It's a huge passion of mine to give young players opportunities, and planning out those opportunities for them is key. It's got to be at the right time. The players have got to come here, enjoy it and be themselves. That's been part of the conversations that I've had with them so far. The relationships that we build will be built quickly. I want to create an environment where the players are inspired and excited, and can't wait to come back.”