Head Coach Richard Williams has praised the performance of his Cymru U17 squad as the side returned to UEFA qualifying action this month and progressed through to the Elite round of games that will take place early next year.
“Due to the pandemic this group of players have had much less exposure to international football than usual, but they were great. They reacted outstandingly in the first game and kept it going throughout the week. We want these players to come through the pathway right through the senior team and in these tournaments we look to give every squad member minutes and a great experience”
Cymru headed to Portugal for the qualifying round in order to face Ukraine, Kazakhstan and the hosts, and began the mini-tournament with a significant result against Ukraine as goals from Luke Harris and Alex Roberts either side of half-time handed the side a convincing lead. Ukraine pulled a goal back through Nazar Balaba with just under 15 minutes remaining, but a late goal from substitute Cole Fleming earned the side an impressive victory in Albufeira.
“Winning the first game in these tournaments is key, it means it’s all to play for up until the final match. It was great for the confidence and the motivation of the players, they applied everything we asked for from a tactical and work rate perspective and they were rewarded as they dominated the match against a strong Ukraine side.”
A 2-0 defeat against Portugal in Faro-Loulé followed a few days later as the hosts claimed the victory through goals from Diogo Monteiro and Rodrigo Ribeiro. Cymru then returned to Albufeira for their final group match, and despite taking the lead through Omari Benjamin after 27 minutes, Kazakhstan responded with an equaliser from Abinur Nurymbet shortly afterwards. The score remained 1-1 to leave Cymru third in the group on four points, but the victory over group winners Ukraine in the opening match would prove crucial in earning the side a place in the Elite round.
Despite finishing behind Ukraine and Portugal in Group 11, Cymru are one of just three teams to confirm qualification after finishing third in their group alongside Hungary and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The remaining places will be decided when Sweden play Latvia on 23 November in the one remaining Group 2 fixture. Cymru will then join the other 31 teams that will compete at the Elite round of fixtures, and will be in Pot D for the draw where they will challenge for a place at the finals of the competition.
“We’ll continue to monitor the players at their clubs as we look to prepare for the Elite Round. Hopefully their progression will continue, and we’ll go into the tournament with an even stronger squad. The draw takes place in early December so once we know our opponents, we can work with our analysts to build an idea of what to expect. Hopefully we will be able to take an U17s side to the finals for the first time.”
It has been a difficult couple of years for the intermediate teams with these UEFA tournaments suspended and subsequently cancelled as a result of the pandemic. Cymru are yet to qualify for the UEFA U17 Championship finals, and will face a tough challenge in the Elite round if they to make it to Israel. The Elite round will take place in the Spring and will consist of eight groups with the winners and seven best runners-up joining hosts Israel for the finals that will take place in May and June next year.