The Wales Women’s football team will get the chance to make history at Newport’s famous Rodney Parade ground tonight (Friday, 31 August) when they attempt to beat arch-rivals England to qualify for next year’s World Cup in France.
England are ranked at No 4 in the world, and reached the semi-finals of the 2015 World Cup in Canada. Wales manager Jayne Ludlow, who earlier this year was added to the Welsh Sports Hall of Fame’s Roll of Honour, has a team of mainly part-timers who are 25 places below them.
But don’t be fooled by the world rankings. Wales have yet to concede a goal in their seven matches this campaign thanks to the heroics in defence of goalkeeper Laura O’Sullivan and skipper Sophie Ingle.
— FA WALES (@FAWales) August 30, 2018
They drew with England 0-0 at St Mary’s, Southampton, in the away leg and must now win the return match to guarantee a ticket to France next year as the winners of Group 1. What they need is another clean sheet and, even more importantly, some goals.
“It is a massive game, but it’s also just the culmination of what has been a journey and growth for us as a national team,” said Ludlow, Wales’ greatest women’s footballer of all-time.
“We have enjoyed every single game in this competition and we’ve learned from our mistakes along the way. We have areas to develop and we still have new targets to set.
“The fact that we have the possibility to achieve something we have never done before makes this game bigger but, when you break it all down, it’s just another football game of 90 minutes.
“We have to do the same things we’ve done all the way through this campaign. The players have roles which have changed, but they have the ability to change quickly.
“The Wales-England rivalry doesn’t really mean a lot to me. It could be any other of the top 10 world ranked nation we are playing against.
“They are one of the best teams in the world and we have to give them the respect they deserve. But we have concentrated on them as individuals and as a team – rather than as England – and that hopefully means we can compete with them.
“The fact that we are now able to compete with England shows how far we have come. We can’t afford to make mistakes, and I’m confident that we won’t make mistakes, but we all know we will need to be better on Friday night, better than we have been so far.
“But I’m proud to say we’ve had a hell of a journey and we have come so far as a group. I’m ultra-confident we can develop further.”
Wales have got better and better, grown in confidence and become a major player in the Group as the tournament has progressed. Tonight could be the icing on the cake.
The maths on the night is simple for both teams. Wales, who currently top Group 1 by a point from England, have to win their final game to guarantee qualification.
England boos Phil Neville’s team still have to play in Kazakhstan on Tuesday and could afford a draw in Newport if then go on to win the pool with victory next week. If they lose tonight, then they will have to hope they can qualify for France via the play-offs.
“Wales deserve the utmost respect from us and we know we are going to have to be at our very best to win this game or get a result. We are under no illusions about that,” said Neville.
“The atmosphere will be really good. They have home advantage, they are top of the group and it is basically a knock-out situation – the winner takes it all.
“Whoever wins is going to a World Cup and whoever doesn’t will be suffering. We are on their patch and they have got to do whatever it takes to win.
“You’ve got to admire that kind of planning, the choice of venue and their siege mentality, and I’d do exactly the same. The men did it when they went to the Euros with Chris Coleman and there is a real momentum with Welsh football.
“We are treating this game as if we were playing the likes of USA, Germany or France. I don’t think women’s football in Britain has had an occasion like this in the last four or five years.”