Jayne Ludlow's Cymru return to UEFA Women's EURO 2021 Group C qualifying on Tuesday, 12 November, when the side take on Northern Ireland for the second time in the campaign at the Seaview Stadium in Belfast (7.45pm).
Northern Ireland v Cymru
UEFA Women's EURO 2021 Qualifying Round
- Tuesday 12 November 19:45
- Seaview, Belfast
Chelsea's Sophie Ingle missed the 1-0 victory over Belarus last month through injury, and Ludlow was keen to emphasise the influence of her captain when the manager sat down with FAW.cymru recently to look ahead to the match. “She's huge, she's our captain,” Ludlow explained. “Every member of our squad is important, but from a leadership perspective she's a top performer. She plays at one of the best clubs in the world, and it was strange for us last time as she hasn't missed a game in so long.
“Sophie's an unassuming leader, I think that's the best way to put it. For me, leadership when it comes to our teams is about stepping on the pitch and being able to compete, and stepping off the pitch as potentially the player of the match every time you perform. That's the first thing for me, you have to do your own job and you have to do it particularly well. She ticks all those boxes, and has done so since she first wore the jersey.
“The other part in regard to leadership for me is how people respond to adversity, and what I do expect from any player that wears the armband for us at any level is that when adversity happens, that person is the positive and stabilising influence. The one who can see the opportunities within the adversity. I think that kind of sums up who Sophie is. She's not a loudmouth, like me! We're very different in certain ways, but she's very effective within the group, and we're looking forward to having her back. We've missed her.”
Midfielder Rachel Rowe was the hero for Cymru in Belarus, and Ludlow was delighted to have her back in the squad after more than a year. “Any player that's had a long-term injury, there's the mental side of it and the physical side of it, and it takes quite a few months to get back to your best,” she explained. “But we haven't seen that with Rach, she's flying. She's back playing for her club and the she's done great. Obviously, with her scoring the goal, it was the icing on top of the cake.”
After three games, Cymru remain undefeated in the qualifying campaign, and the return against Belarus in the last match was particularly pleasing for Ludlow after the manner of the previous draw. “We're always pleased when we come away from a game with three points, in particular when we travel away from home. We've gone through this campaign so far missing certain individuals, so when you add that into the mix, three points away in Belarus was absolutely fantastic. The girls put on a performance that we needed.”
One player who will miss the match in Belfast is Natasha Harding who has been ruled out due to injury. Harding captained the team in Belarus, and scored a hat-trick in the opening 6-0 win over the Faroe Islands. “Tash and Sophie compliment each other as a leadership group because they have very different personalties,” explained Ludlow. “They bring different things to the environment. Are we going to miss her? Hell yes! Not just for her performances on the pitch, but for her personalty off it. It's a huge loss for us, but it's also an opportunity for someone else.”
Cymru and Northern Ireland played out a 2-2 draw at Rodney Parade earlier in the campaign, with a late, late equaliser for the visitors making it a frustrating evening. “We've watched the last game against Northern Ireland numerous times now ahead of this camp,” Ludlow explained. “We weren't at our best in certain areas, but we created chances, and we had opportunities to win the game.
“It wasn't all negative, but we have to make sure that when we step onto the pitch next time we compete and we stick to our game plan. There were certain elements that we let ourselves down with, so we're looking forward to one hell of a contest out there. We want three points, but we're realistic about how hard we're going to have to work to get that. There's certain areas we have to be better at, because we are coming up against a strong Northern Ireland team that have been developing well.”