Wales will discover their UEFA Women's EURO 2021 qualifying opponents on Thursday 21st February before the squad head out to Marbella for a warm-weather training camp and two friendly fixtures against the Republic of Ireland.
Key dates (UK times)
UEFA Women's EURO 2021 draw
12:30 21/02/19 Nyon, Switzerland
Wales v Republic of Ireland
15:00 28/02/19 Marbella, Spain
Wales v Republic of Ireland
12:00 05/03/19 Marbella, Spain
A record number of countries will enter the qualifying stage of the competition as 47 nations look to join hosts England in the 16-team finals that will take place in July 2021. Wales have been seeded in Pot 2 for the first time following an impressive run of results in 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup qualifying, but manager Jayne Ludlow appreciates that there will be some difficult challenges ahead if her team are to achieve their goal.
“It's huge,” explained Ludlow to FAW.cymru when asked about the significance of the seeding position. “It means that we will draw one really top team when in the past we would have drawn two really top teams. Hopefully, it means we have a better chance of getting where we want to go, which is to the finals of a major tournament. Having said that, it's going to be tough, as each team we draw will give us a different type of challenge.”
Wales were undefeated in the opening seven games of the last qualifying campaign, and while it ended in disappointment with defeat against England, it proved to be a defining period for the women's game in Wales. The challenge now is to build on it, and preparations for the qualifiers continue in Marbella at the end of the month where the side will play two games against the Republic of Ireland as part of a warm-weather training camp.
The decision marks a significant shift from what is usually a busy period of international football for Ludlow and her side, having previously opted to compete in various mini-tournaments across Europe during February and March. But with the side heading into a crucial qualifying campaign later this year, preparation is key, and Ludlow believes the change in approach will benefit her side.
“For us as a small nation it's very challenging to play four games in 10 days,” Ludlow added. “We were getting to a point where we breaking our players down. Nations who have huge squads and lots of players to pick from at a similar level, those tournaments are great, because they can change their teams around. We can't do that.
“We were putting a lot of pressure on certain players to play all four games which isn't realistic,” Ludlow added. “So we've gone down the route now of doing something that is solely for us, which suits us. The environment will be set by us, so the whole schedule will be the best that we can make it. It's a great chance to try different tactical options before going into the next campaign.”
The side suffered a 2-0 reverse away to Italy last month, and following the double-header against the Republic of Ireland (28th February and 5th March), Wales return to Newport on 4th April to take on the Czech Republic in an international friendly at Rodney Parade.
“There are some fantastic female teams out there now,” Ludlow explained. “We really have to raise our standards over the next six months. One thing we have to be in the future is an adaptable team that can respond to different environments when we need to. It doesn't really matter who we get in the qualifying draw, we have to do our homework prior to those games, and make sure that we prepare really well.”
All you need to know about the UEFA Women's EURO 2021 qualifying draw
A record 48 nations will enter UEFA Women's EURO 2021 with only hosts England excluded from the qualifying draw. Cyprus are appearing in their first senior female competition, while Kosovo are also making their UEFA Women's EURO debut and Azerbaijan enter for the first time since 2009.
Nine groups will be formed: two with six teams, and seven with five. Each side is placed in one of five seeding pots (four of nine and one of 11) depending on their coefficient ranking. Based on the UEFA Executive Committee decisions valid at the time of the draw, Kosovo cannot be drawn with either Bosnia and Herzegovina or Serbia.
Matches will be played home and away from 26th August 2019 to 22nd September 2020.
Pot 1: France, Germany, Netherlands (holders), Spain, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Scotland, Italy.
Pot 2: Austria, Denmark, Iceland, Belgium, Russia, Wales, Ukraine, Finland, Czech Republic.
Pot 3: Portugal, Republic of Ireland, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, Hungary, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Belarus.
Pot 4: Turkey, Slovakia, Croatia, Northern Ireland, Greece, Israel, Kazakhstan, Albania, Moldova.
Pot 5: Faroe Islands, Malta, FYR Macedonia, Estonia, Montenegro, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Kosovo.
The group winners and the three runners-up with the best record against the sides first, third, fourth and fifth in their sections will join hosts England in the final tournament. The other six runners-up will play off in October 2020 for the remaining three places in the 16-team finals to be held the following summer.
Qualifying group stage draw: 12:30 UK time, 21 February 2019, Nyon.
Qualifying group stage dates: 26 August–3 September 2019, 30 September–8 October 2019, 4–12 November 2019, 2–11 March 2020, 6–14 April 2020, 1–9 June 2020, 14–22 September 2020.
Play-off draw: 25 September 2020, Nyon.
Play-offs (two legs): 19–27 October 2020.
Final tournament draw: late 2020, England.
Final tournament: July 2021, England.