Jayne Ludlow's Cymru head to the Borisov Arena on Tuesday, 8 October, to take on Belarus in UEFA Women's EURO 2021 qualifying.
Belarus v Cymru
UEFA Women's EURO 2021 Qualifying Round
- 17:00 Tuesday 8 October
- Borisov Arena, Barysaw
The Group C campaign started in spectacular style in August as a hat-trick from Natasha Harding inspired the side to a resounding 6-0 victory away to the Faroe Islands. However, a late equaliser from Northern Ireland at Rodney Parade last month earned the visitors a share of the points in a frustrating 2-2 draw, and Ludlow is now desperate for her team to show their true colours against Belarus.
“We're really looking forward to it and it's a pity that it's taken so long to come around,” Ludlow explained to FAW.cymru following her squad announcement. “Although it's only been a few weeks, it would have been lovely to have had another game straight after the previous one for the players in particular to step on the pitch and compete at a level that they are used to, because I don't believe they did for the 90 minutes against Northern Ireland.
“It will be a tough game, as any national team game is when you travel away from home. They're a developing team. We've analysed them really well, they're a hard-working team who have certain strengths that we have to be aware of. Whenever we step on the pitch as a national team, we hope for three points and 1-0 is enough. The main thing we focus on is clean sheets, because if we do that, then we have a chance of winning.”
Despite the manner of the 2-2 draw against Northern Ireland, Cymru remain undefeated after two games, and have already scored more goals than they did in the last qualifying campaign. “For us to expect those players to produce every time they put a shirt on for Wales, and perform phenomenally, is unrealistic,” Ludlow added, when reflecting on the previous game. “We do everything prep-wise to make sure that they are in the best place they can be, but sometimes people make mistakes, the wrong decisions at the wrong times. Good teams will score goals against you, so we have to learn quickly from the mistakes we made in the last game.”
Although Jess Fishlock remains a long-term absentee through injury, and was recently joined by captain Sophie Ingle, the influential Rachel Rowe returns after a prolonged recovery from the injury she suffered at the end of the last campaign. “Rachel is a great character,” said Ludlow. “She's competitive. Sometimes if you're not used to being around sports people who compete at the top level, it can be a bit of a shock. Rachel is the ultimate competitor, and any coaches hearing that sentence will be thinking certain things straight away. She's a winner.”
Meanwhile, Georgia Walters is an unfamiliar name in the squad, and could win her first senior cap in Belarus. “Georgia hasn't been involved with us for a few years,” Ludlow added. “She's a technically gifted player, but unfortunately for her, her route hasn't gone to the level she was hoping for club wise, which is no disrespect to Tranmere Rovers, but she's playing at a lower level right now. That doesn't take anything away from the her individual ability, but what we are going to assess when she's on camp is her learning ability, and to see how she fits in with the group, which I'm sure she will do fantastically well.”
The last qualifying campaign was a defining one for the women's game in Wales, as the unprecedented support and media attention elevated the players to another level. However, Ludlow has only seen positive changes for the experience. “For us as a group it's our normal routine, it's our normal way of working, and looking forward to the challenge,” she explained. “I think there's more challenges for them now as individuals in the sense of more off the field opportunities for them, and that's a positive thing. We do better now as an association to get our players out doing more.
“Do I think anything has changed with regard to their burning ambition to qualify? No. Do they acknowledge that it's still going to be tough? Yes. For us, we don't see a huge change in our environment from the last campaign, but we are constantly adapting things to challenge them in different ways. Because for us to be a team that can get the major tournament finals and compete there, we've still got a lot of work to do. From the physical work to the technical work, it's still very much a development plan for us. It's every game as it comes. The focus is now on Belarus and hopefully we will do the right things at the right times, and then look forward to the rest of the games.”