It was a year of progress on and off the field for Cymru as new attendance records were set, centurions were crowned and the side came close to qualifying for the World Cup. Although the year would end in heartbreak in the play-offs, the positives that Gemma Grainger and her squad can take from this year offers plenty of optimism for the future. Here's what happened in 2022.
The year began for Cymru in the Spanish town of Pinatar as Gemma Grainger's squad took a break from World Cup qualification to compete at the Pinatar Cup. “I think it's an opportunity for us as a squad to see where we're at and to give individuals opportunities,” explained Grainger. “But most importantly, it will all be based on what we want to do and reviewing how we perform. The process part is the main focus and the hope is that it will correlate with the result.”
Two goals from Jess Fishlock and a third from Natasha Harding earned the side a 3-1 win over Scotland in the opening game, but a penalty shoot-out defeat to Belgium in the semi-final after the two teams had played out a 0-0 draw meant that Cymru would not be claiming silverware in the popular mini-tournament. A 1-0 defeat to the Republic of Ireland confirmed that Cymru would finish the competition in fourth place.
Cymru returned to Pinatar in June and November for two friendlies against New Zealand and Finland respectively. The first friendly against New Zealand ended 0-0 but offered Grainger some important time with the squad ahead of the remaining World Cup qualifiers. “We will get the main squad together for six or seven days on the pitch before the game,” said the manager. “That's really unique for us as we don't normally get the opportunity to coach them that much.”
The year ended for Cymru with a third visit to Pinatar for a training camp and friendly against Finland in November. Carrie Jones scored the Cymru goal in the 1-1 draw before Finland levelled from the penalty spot. “I will be looking to integrate new players into the team and maybe a new playing style as we continue to evolve,” explained Grainger as she looked to the future. "So it will be a different looking team come September. I don't know what that looks like right now, but I can guarantee that the planning that goes into it will be very thorough.”
World Cup Qualifiers
The serious business of World Cup qualification resumed for Cymru in April with the challenge of taking on group leaders France in Llanelli. Striker Helen Ward made her 100th senior international appearance but it was France who claimed a 2-1 victory through goals from Wendie Renard and Marie-Antoinette Katoto before Cymru captain Sophie Ingle brought her side back into the game. However, it was France that would take maximum points and extend their lead at the top of the group.
“I think it's pride and disappointment,” said Grainger after the match. “To go 2-0 down to a team of their quality and push them right until the end, it shows our resilience. We feel a couple of chances went against us today. We competed with one of the best teams in the world and I am proud of that.” A few days later Natasha Harding scored on her 100th international appearance as Cymru made the long journey to Kazakhstan and claimed a comfortable 3-0 victory with Kayleigh Green and Jess Fishlock also adding their names to the scoresheet.
In September, Carrie Jones scored the only goal of the game in Greece to setup a huge match against Slovenia at the Cardiff City Stadium with Cymru needing just a point to claim a World Cup play-off place. A record crowd of 12,471 backed the side in the 0-0 draw that confirmed their place in the play-offs for the first time. “It's one of the hardest ways to qualify for the World Cup in terms of what the qualification process looks like,” said Grainger. “But we're ready to go and we have a plan. Our team have done an amazing job off the field to make sure that we're in a position following the draw to hit the ground running.”
An incredible crowd of 15,200 welcomed Cymru back to the Cardiff City Stadium to take on Bosnia and Herzegovina in October. Jess Fishlock scored the only goal of the game with a fine finish in extra-time to claim the victory. However, the World Cup dream would come to an end in Switzerland a few days later. Rhiannon Roberts put Cymru ahead but Switzerland equalised to take the match to extra-time, but the home side scored a second in the final minute of the additional period to win the match.
“It is incredibly tough to take,” said Grainger to BBC Sport Wales after the match. “We know the margins at this level are fine and that has been shown tonight. I am incredibly proud of this group. I am proud we competed in this game and we intend to keep doing that. We are disappointed right now, we know we can win these level of games, but it is fine margins. We have to thank our fans for their support in the campaign.”