Gemma Grainger's Cymru are on the verge of making history as they head into their final two games of 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup qualifying, and a record crowd will be in attendance when they take on Slovenia at the Cardiff City Stadium on Tuesday, 6 September (7.45pm).
FIFA WWC QUALIFYING ROUND
Cymru v Slovenia
- 19:45 Tuesday 6 September
- Cardiff City Stadium
- Tickets available here
Cymru currently occupy the coveted play-off place in Group I with a two-point advantage over Slovenia, but Grainger's immediate focus will be on the challenge of Greece as the side head to the Panthessaliko Stadium in Volos on Friday, 2 September. Although Cymru claimed an impressive 5-0 win over Greece in Llanelli last November, their opponents remain in contention for a play-off place, and Grainger is expecting a much tougher test this time around.
“We played one of our best games of the campaign against Greece,” she explained at the recent squad announcement. “They are a good team and you can see that from the draw they had in Slovenia. But like any opposition, you cannot underestimate them. They will be a different team to what we faced last November and they will have their own focus for this camp.” Meanwhile, Slovenia host bottom side Kazakhstan on Friday before they head to Cardiff a few days later to decide the final group positions.
“We're excited and we're looking forward to these two games,” Grainger added. “But we're also really excited about what the future holds for this squad, and we've felt that for the whole of this journey. For us, it's important to focus on Greece first and foremost. We are aware of what we need to do, but we want to win the two games. We're not just looking at these two games in isolation, we want to be a team that qualifies for major tournaments, and that is our mindset and mentality going into every game.”
Jess Fishlock returns to the squad for the two decisive fixtures but Hannah Cain and Esther Morgan miss out through injury, while midfielder Angharad James is set to become the latest Cymru centurion if she plays in both fixtures. Like a number of the current squad, James completed a club move during the summer as she returned from the United States to sign for Tottenham Hotspur, and Grainger spoke about the importance of finding the right club. “It's a big part of the conversation I have with players as off the pitch and on the pitch happiness really do need to match up. We also want our young players to be getting minutes as they're going to be great players in this team for years to come.”
Cymru need four points to guarantee second place behind group winners France and with it claim a play-off place, and there is no doubt that Grainger and her squad will have been inspired from watching Rob Page and the men's team qualify for the World Cup via the play-offs back in June. An incredible atmosphere at the Cardiff City Stadium played an important role in Cymru ending their 64-year wait to return to the world stage, and Grainger believes the Red Wall can make a huge difference. Ticket sales have significantly cleared the previous record attendance of 5,455 for a women's home international match and the excitement, anticipation and interest is expected to increase as the match gets closer.
“It's really special,” she explained. “We've heard a lot about the Women's EURO and the impact that has had, but I also think that we are on our own journey. We're excited about playing against Slovenia at the Cardiff City Stadium and the crowd will give us that competitive advantage. The EURO's has given us an opportunity to put what we are doing on a stage and we want to continue to grow the women's game. One of the biggest things for me is that it leads to accessibility. We want our players, whatever the age, to be able to play football. The more investment that goes into the game then the more accessible it will be at all levels.
“I would like the fans to feel that there's a sense of togetherness and a family experience that I hope is a great one. We will aim to put on a show on the pitch and make sure that we play the way that we've played throughout this campaign, because that's something that we're really passionate about. We want to make sure that these fans get to see us doing what we work so hard to do, and what these girls are capable of. The belief we have in this team is that we can play some very, very good football. But most importantly, we want the fans to have a good time, and we want to interact with them, which we will do at the end because that's a big part of who we are as well. With a good performance, it should be a great evening.”