It proved to be a very successful year for two of our intermediate teams as the women's U17 team and men's U19 team both qualified for the UEFA Elite round of fixtures that will take place next year.
Meanwhile, the men's U21 team ended their qualification campaign on a high with an impressive 3-1 win over Switzerland in Newport. Although Rob Page's team failed to make it through their qualifying group, the progression of a number of players to Ryan Giggs' senior side proved to be the real indicator of success for the side.
The pathway system in place offers inspiration and motivation to the next generation of players that are emerging through the intermediate teams, and the situation is mirrored in the women's game, with manager Jayne Ludlow also keen to promote young players into the senior squad.
Men's U21 team
A potentially difficult trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina in March welcomed Rob Page's team to 2018, and with heavy snow in Zenica putting the match in doubt, there were as many issues to solve off the field as well son it.
However, the side put in a committed performance, and while they suffered a 1-0 defeat, it was a much-improved display from the 4-0 defeat in the reverse fixture at Bangor a few months before.
Two friendly draws against Georgia in Tbilisi followed in June as the side prepared for the UEFA qualifiers, and while Page was keen to ensure his side finished the campaign on a high, it was important to keep in context just how many players had progressed to the senior squad at this point.
Two goals from George Thomas proved enough for the side to claim a 2-1 victory over Liechtenstein in September was followed by a 2-0 defeat against Portugal, with both games being played at Bangor City.
A 2-0 defeat against Romania in Cluj ensured the home side would have the edge over Portugal at the top of Group 8, but Page was desperate for his side to end the campaign the same way as it started with a win over Switzerland, and his team produced by completing the double over their opponents.
A goal from Joe Morrell was followed by a brace from Connor Evans to earn the side a deserved 3-1 win.
“It’s important that we implement the key principles that Ryan (Giggs) wants in the senior team into the Under-21’s as well,” explained Page back in September.
“These boys are one step away and could be called upon at any time. That’s their incentive, Ryan’s true to his word. When he took the job he was on the phone to me asking me about what players we have coming through, so I knew he was really keen to develop these young players. It’s really encouraging for Welsh football and there’s still more coming through the system.”
Women's U17 Team
Despite only playing three fixtures during the course of 2018, it proved to be a successful year for the women's U17 squad as they progressed through their qualifying group to book their place in the UEFA Elite round.
The team headed to Serbia for the opening Group 7 match in October and suffered a heavy 4-0 reverse. However, the team regrouped and responded with a 0-0 draw against the Republic of Ireland in their second game
In the deciding match against Albania, goals from Josie Longhurst and substitute Zoe Collyer booked Wales' place in the Elite round of fixtures with a 2-0 win.
The side now head to Austria in March to take on Belgium, Finland and the hosts with the opportunity of claiming a place in the finals of the UEFA Women's U17 Championship that will take place in Bulgaria during May 2019.
“I'm really pleased,” said manager Jayne Ludlow following their success. “It's fantastic for the whole group of players and staff. They focused through the whole tournament and competed to the best of their ability. Playing in the Elite Round will be great for their development.”
Men's U17 Team
Intermediate team managers Rob Page, Paul Bodin and Rob Edwards took their young side to Budapest during the summer to compete in the Telki Cup in preparation for the UEFA qualifiers that would take place in Portugal in October.
However, the side suffered a heavy 7-1 defeat to the Czech Republic in their opening match, with James Taylor scoring the consolation goal. A 3-0 defeat to Croatia followed in the second match, but a brace from Will Russ in the final match against host nation Hungary ensured the competition ended on a relative high with a 2-2 draw.
“We saw a game by game improvement from the side out in Hungary which can only be a positive,” explained U17 manager Rob Edwards ahead of the October qualifiers. “We know what worked and what didn't work. We're up against three powerful sides in this tournament and we're not expecting any easy games. It'll be a tough test but we're prepared and ready.”
And the side were just minutes away from claiming a victory in their opening match against Belarus, but goals from Joshua Thomas and Bradley Gibbins were cancelled out by a late equaliser in a 2-2 draw.
A disappointing 1-0 defeat to Kazakhstan followed, and the qualifiers ended with a 5-1 reverse against Portugal. Michael Sparkes scoring the solitary goal for Wales.
Women's U19 Team
The year started for the women's U19 team by competing in the UEFA Elite round having progressed through the qualifiers the year before.
A 2-0 defeat to Denmark was followed by a 3-1 reverse to Serbia, but the campaign ended on a high as Amina Vine scored the crucial goal in a 1-0 win over host nation Portugal.
Although the team missed out on a place in the 2018 finals, there were plenty of positives to take into the next qualifying campaign, together with a progression of a number of players into the senior squad.
“We have a consistent structure right through the age groups and up into the senior team,” explained coach Lauren Smith. “Hopefully the players that were called up with the seniors can prove why they were called up and pass on what they learnt to their teammates. Hopefully it shows to the whole squad that there is potential to get called up if you play well enough.”
The team then headed to Armenia in October, and suffered a 2-1 defeat to Iceland in their opening match in Group 12 of the UEFA qualifiers.
A 3-1 reverse against Belgium followed, and while the side would miss out on a place in the Elite round, a convincing 6-0 win over Armenia ended the campaign in style as six different players found themselves on the scoresheet.
Men's U19 Team
It proved to be a busy and ultimately successful 2018 for Paul Bodin's U19 team.
Two friendly defeats away to Croatia in March offered little indication of what would follow, but it was the start of a long year of progress for Bodin and his staff, that included participating in the Slovakia Cup in May. With a young squad, Wales defeated Hungary 1-0 through a goal from Jay Foulston, but suffered defeats against Slovakia, Azerbaijan and Ukraine.
“It's an intense competition against really good opposition,” explained Bodin after the final match. “It has been physically demanding as well as technically and tactically demanding.Four games in five days is fantastic for the players.
"We've seen some players come through with flying colours, but some haven't quite been able to perform for one reason or another. I've learnt an awful lot about the players, and I think they've learnt how they need to be a little bit more professional and knowledgeable. But I'm positive, the signs are good, and I'm sure we can be stronger moving forward.”
Three friendlies in September and October followed as the side continued to prepare for the UEFA qualifiers that Wales would host in November.
Heading to the Republic of Ireland for a friendly double-header, Bodin's side won the opening match 1-0 but suffered a 2-0 defeat in the return game.
A 2-0 victory over Poland at Bangor through a Brennan Johnson brace provided more encouragement and vindicated the manager's long-term optimism.
Although the UEFA qualifiers in November started with an unfortunate 2-1 defeat against Scotland at Rhyl, goals from Joseph Adams and Christian Norton earned the side an impressive 2-1 win over Sweden in the second match at Bangor.
The final match against San Marino would prove decisive for the campaign, and while Scotland and Sweden played out a 2-2 draw at Rhyl, goals from Lewis Collins and Sam Bowen earned Wales a 2-0 win and a place in the Elite round.
The draw has placed Wales in Group 4, and Bodin's team will head to the Netherlands in March to take on Spain, Slovenia and the hosts.