Cymru return to 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup qualifying this week as Gemma Grainger's side take on Greece on Friday (26 November) at Parc y Scarlets in Llanelli before heading to France to face the formidable challenge of the Group I leaders on Tuesday (30 November).
2023 FIFA Women's World Cup Qualifier
Cymru v Greece
- 19:15 Friday 26 November
- Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli
- Tickets available at the stadium ticket office
Grainger's side have enjoyed an impressive and undefeated start to the campaign, winning three of their opening four games and scoring 12 goals in the process. Cymru were held to a 1-1 draw in Slovenia last month, and as well as being the only points dropped, the opening goal from Manja Rogan for the home side was the only goal conceded to date. Cymru responded to the draw by beating Estonia 4-0 in Cardiff, building on previous victories over Kazakhstan and in the away fixture against Estonia back in September.
Cymru currently sit in second place in the group, and while Greece have completed the double over group minnows Kazakhstan, they have suffered heavy defeats against France and Slovenia. Meanwhile, France have won all four of their games in the campaign, scoring 29 goals and conceding only two. The match in Guingamp next Tuesday will be the toughest of the group for Grainger and her side, but there is a confidence and belief within the squad that this could be the campaign that finally takes Cymru to the finals of a major women's tournament.
Midfielder Jess Fishlock remains a pivotal part of the side, and the 34-year old was recently named the National Women's Soccer League's (NWSL) Most Valuable Player through her performances for OL Reign. The achievement comes on the back of her return from a serious knee injury last year, and the most-capped player in Cymru history will now turn her immediate attention to delivering for her country as she prepares to make her 128th international appearance on Friday night.
“I think the most important thing for us going into these games is consistency for one,” said Fishlock to BBC Radio Wales Sport. “Every international game is difficult and every team gives you different challenges. So we'll be focused on Greece and looking to put in a good performance, and then we'll look to the big game against France and show we can compete. But we have to make sure we go into Greece with the same mentality as France.”
Meanwhile, teenager Carrie Jones continues to impress for club and country, and the 18-year old signed her first professional contract with Manchester United last week. Jones made her senior international debut for Cymru against Kazakhstan in August 2019 when she was still just 15-years old under former manager Jayne Ludlow, and is quickly establishing herself as an important part of Grainger's squad by playing with a maturity above her years when the opportunities arise.
“I’m so pleased to sign my first professional contract,” Jones explained to the official Manchester United website. “It’s something I’ve dreamt of since a young age, and to sign it with a club like Manchester United really tops it off. I’d like to thank my family for the sacrifices they have made over the years and for being with me every step of the way, and all of the coaches that have helped me on my journey. I’m also thankful to the fans for their support and I’m really looking forward to continuing my development here for the next few years.”
However, while Grainger has been able to name a strong Cymru squad for the two games, she will be without midfielders Rachel Rowe and Hannah Cain. Rowe scored a superb goal in the 6-0 victory over Kazakhstan as the side opened the campaign with a resounding win and her influence will be missed, while Cain is set for an extended spell on the sidelines after suffering an ACL injury earlier this month. The 22-year old came off the bench to make an impressive Cymru debut in the 4-0 win over Estonia in October.
The match against Estonia at the Cardiff City Stadium attracted a record crowd for a Cymru women's international as just under 5,500 fans came out to get behind the side, and such support will be crucial if the side are to make this a successful campaign. Tickets are now on sale for the match against Greece at Parc y Scarlets on Friday. Kick off is at 7.15pm.