“There's no better feeling than playing for Wales.” Now on the verge of making her 100th appearance for her country, Cymru captain Sophie Ingle remains as humble as she did on the day she made her international debut back in 2009.
Norway v Cymru
UEFA Women's EURO 2022 Qualifying Round
- 17:00 Tuesday 22 September
- Ullevaal Stadion, Oslo
“I definitely never even considered that I would ever reach 100 caps when I made my debut,” said Ingle to FAW.cymru. “It was out in Azerbaijan over a decade ago, so it's been a long process. But as soon as I had that first cap I just wanted more and more. Getting that 100th cap will be special, but I will be nothing but professional on the day, and it will be all about getting those points on the board. I'll worry about the celebrations after that.”
Jayne Ludlow's side return to EURO qualifying for with a difficult away fixture against Norway in Oslo on 22 September, and Ingle is under no illusions about how tough a test it will be. “Against Norway we have to get something, whether that's a draw or a win. They're a tough, tough side and we know it's going to be hard for us, but we also know that we can get a result. I've got mixed emotions over the campaign so far, we could have done better, but we're still unbeaten, and that's the main thing.”
Cymru currently sit second in Group C behind leaders Norway at the midway point, but remain undefeated following victories over the Faroe Islands and Belarus, and two draws against Northern Ireland. Since the last qualifier in Belfast in November last year, Ingle has enjoyed domestic success with Chelsea by winning The FA Women's Continental Cup and The Barclays FA Women's Super League, while she also captained Cymru to a friendly 2-0 victory over Estonia in Wrexham prior to lockdown to earn her 99th cap.
One of the most talented players and consistent performers for Cymru over the course of the last decade, Ingle was handed the captaincy of the team by Ludlow in February 2015. “I've definitely grown as a person since I was handed the captaincy,” she added. “At the time I probably didn't believe that I could be captain, but now I have a lot more belief in myself in that I can help others in the squad. I still believe though that we are all leaders, even though I wear the armband. I probably didn't believe in myself back then as much as I should have. But that belief and confidence does come with age, and playing regularly at a great club like Chelsea obviously helps too.”
As the profile of the women's game increases, so Ingle has received the recognition she deserves, with her Chelsea manager Emma Hayes publicly stating that Phil Neville should build his Team GB squad around her. Meanwhile, Ludlow has described her as one of the best players in the Women's Super League, highlighting her versatility and ability to adapt to a range of positions through her natural talent as one of her main attributes. However, Ingle is more appreciative of constructive criticism than personal praise, such is her commitment and dedication to improving her game.
“It's hard to hear things like that and it doesn't quite feel real,” she explained when hearing the statements made by her two managers. “I just like to get on with my football and give as much as I can for the team. I'm focused on winning trophies with my club and qualifying for tournaments with Wales. It's nice to hear those things, but I feel a bit awkward, and don't always know how to take it! Maybe I don't see myself as they do. I think I've always struggled to accept having nice things said about me, I would rather hear the bad and then focus on getting better at that. Maybe that's just me as a person, I just like to get on with my work.”
One of the most popular and respected figures in the senior Cymru squad, the professional characteristics that define the captain will be crucial in inspiring the sort of performance needed by the team to take a huge step towards qualification later this month. It would also be the perfect way to celebrate the contribution that Sophie Ingle has made to the international game on her special night.