Grainger sticking to Pinatar plan against Belgium
Cymru return to the Pinatar Arena on Saturday evening to take on Belgium for a place in the Pinatar Cup final and manager Gemma Grainger will be hoping for another positive performance from her squad following their opening day victory.
Cymru v Belgium
- 19:30 GMT Saturday 19 February
- Pinatar Arena, Spain
Live on BBC Sport website and iPlayer
Jess Fishlock scored twice as Cymru defeated Scotland 3-1 on Wednesday afternoon with Natasha Harding completing the scoring in the second half. “When we play against higher-ranked opposition it's an opportunity for us to see how we are developing,” explained Grainger after the win. “To score three goals against a team ranked ten places higher than us, we have to take those positives, and that will help us build the belief and the momentum that we came here to do.”
Belgium scored twice in injury-time as Ives Serneels' side claimed an opening 4-0 win over Slovakia to book their place in the semi-final against Cymru through goals from Hannah Eurlings, Janice Cayman, Tine De Caigny and Sarah Wijnants. Currently 20th in the FIFA rankings, the Belgian Red Flames have scored an incredible 38 goals in their opening six World Cup qualifiers, including a record 19-0 win over Armenia back in November. “As the highest ranked country we obviously have the ambition to finish as high as possible in Spain,” said Serneels ahead of the tournament.
However, attacking football has also been a clear trait of Grainger's tenure with Cymru since her appointment last March. “We're learning in each game and we know we're capable of scoring goals,” she explained. “We had a plan coming into this tournament and we're going to stick to this plan. We made six substitutions [against Scotland] and we felt that the whole team performance was strong. We have our senior players, but the younger players now are really taking their opportunity to step up. This competition for us is a combination between winning and development, and it's going to be a huge experience for us.”
The challenge of playing three games in six days will be a key part of that experience, and the squad have clearly bought into the potential benefits of taking part in the competition. “We're a team now that are setting new standards and new expectations,” explained Fishlock post-match. “So we will accept and acknowledge the things that weren't good enough, and hopefully throughout the week we can improve on those things. Every team is different and we have to adapt to that. There's going to be different situations and scenarios thrown at us and we have to find a way to perform and win.”
Hayley Ladd limped out of the victory over Scotland after just 15 minutes having a suffered an early knock, and the fitness of the Manchester United defender will be assessed closer to the game. Goalkeeper Laura O'Sullivan made her 50th international appearance in the win, while striker Helen Ward came off the bench to earn her 98th cap to move a step closer to becoming the latest international centurion. Belgium were without the experienced Tessa Wullaert in their victory over Slovakia on Wednesday as she continued her recovery from injury, but the Anderlecht forward could feature against Cymru on Saturday.
Elsewhere at the Pinatar Cup on Wednesday, the Republic of Ireland defeated Poland 2-1 in La Manga and will now face Russia in the other semi-final on Saturday evening following their penalty shoot-out victory over Hungary. Meanwhile, Scotland will now take on Slovakia and Poland will play Hungary.