The Wales women's squad head to Portugal this month for two friendlies against a side preparing for the UEFA Women's EURO 2017 finals in the Netherlands in July.
PORTUGAL v WALES
- Thursday 8 & 11 June
- Portugal v Wales
- Kick off - 16:00 & 11:00
Jayne Ludlow's side missed out on qualifying despite a strong finish to the campaign, but continued to impressive at the Cyprus Cup in March and in recent friendlies against Northern Ireland in April. With the focus now firmly-fixed on the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup qualifying campaign that starts later this year, Ludlow will be keen to see how her side perform against a Portugal side preparing to compete at the finals of a major tournament.
Captain Sophie Ingle has been a key part of a defence that has improved significantly since the early part of the last qualifying campaign, and the Liverpool Ladies Player's Player of the Year spoke to FAW.cymru recently to explain what has changed behind the scenes. “The defence is something that we have worked on particularly hard with Jayne,” Ingle explained. “She has really concentrated on improving the back four and the defensive midfield players. Rihanne Skinner has taken responsibility for our play further up the field, and as a result we have really been able to focus on improving our defence. The results have shown that it is working, particularly in the Cyprus Cup, which was really pleasing for us.”
Jayne has brought a lot of new players into the squad, and the younger players are really pushing for a place in the side.
The manager has again named a number of new faces in her squad for the two friendlies, and Ingle was keen to praise the impact made by the younger players that have been introduced since Ludlow's appointment back in October 2014. “Jayne has brought a lot of new players into the squad, and the younger players are really pushing for a place in the side,” Ingle added. “They bring an energy to the dressing room and it’s a great environment. Some of the younger girls coming into the group can be a bit intimidated at first, but they quickly realise how supportive the senior players are.”
One of Ludlow's first decisions as manager was to replace Jess Fishlock with Sophie Ingle as team captain, and it was a decision that surprised Ingle as much as anyone. “At first I was taken aback by it,” Ingle remembered. “It didn’t seem to be a natural role for me personally, but Jayne just told me to be myself. I like to support and encourage the younger girls coming into the camp, as it can be an intimidating environment. Also, Jess has also been there to offer support when I’ve needed it. It’s been a real learning curve for me.”
But it was Fishlock who took the headlines in the recent victories over Northern Ireland at Ystrad Mynach as the talismanic midfielder became the first player ever to make 100 appearances for Wales. “We were all buzzing for Jess and we put in two really good performances,” explained Ingle. “The new players that came into the squad did really well in making the most of their opportunity and did themselves proud. It was also great to see so many local school children at the games, chanting throughout the match and creating a great atmosphere. But now we have to build on those two games against Portugal, and improve on certain aspects of our performance ready for the qualifiers.”
The draw for the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup qualifiers paired Wales against England, Russia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kazakhstan in Group 1, and the side open the campaign in September with a logistically difficult trip to Kazakhstan, a team they defeated twice in the last qualifying campaign. “We’re happy with the draw,” Ingle added. “Even though we’ve been drawn with Kazakhstan again, I think you learn more about the team in games and places like that. The games against England will be a derby and will have plenty of interest attached, and we’re really looking forward to it.”