Let’s face it, the Cyprus Cup was never about the results for the Wales women’s team.
Wales manager Jayne Ludlow said it, Natasha Harding said it and skipper Sophie Ingle said it. This year, it’s all about next month’s World Cup Qualifying clash with England, under their new manager Phil Neville.
England’s Lionesses are always at the back of their minds and Cyprus is going to prove pivotal to that game.
Yes back-to-back victories would have been nice, but gelling as a team was more important. It was about making sure everyone knows their roles within that team and it was about experimenting. Things that had to be done in preparation for the Lionesses.
Four games in the Cypriot heat and in such a short space of time was always going to be testing, so it was the perfect opportunity to rotate, switch things up and inject new talent into an already established group of players. The side needed a tournament like the Cyprus Cup to do that, otherwise they’d walk out at St. Mary’s Stadium in Southampton blindfolded and not knowing the person playing next to them as well as they surely do after a positive camp.
Although all the results didn’t go our way, every cloud has a silver lining and for Jayne, that lining is the young blood biting at the heels of the more mature and experienced players.
Players like Elise Hughes, Gwen Davies, Kylie Nolan and Ellie Lake are already in the wings and ready to go when given the nod, and when giving that nod, they gave it their all.
Hughes, Davies and Nolan all earned their first starts out in Cyprus and they held their own in tough conditions against tough opponents.
Meet Elise Hughes:
Then there’s Lake, who although she didn’t get any game time, at just 19 has already competed in the Champions’ League and captained the U19s to qualification for the Elite Round of the UEFA U19 Championships.
Couple the new blood with the likes of centurion Jess Fishlock and our rock at the back Sophie Ingle, Wales are far from pushovers and the future is looking bright.
The younger players standing up and being counted wasn’t the only silver lining however. Laura O’Sullivan between the sticks was a constant source of security at the back and not only has she a penchant for saving a penalty or two, her clean sheet against Finland was her fifth in a row across all competitions.
The loss to the Azzuri was also Ludlow’s first loss since July last year, which is nothing to be ashamed of.
That all being said however, doesn’t take away the challenge that Phil Neville’s side will present.
Whilst Wales occupy top spot in the qualifying group, the Lionesses in second have a game in hand and have shown their threat time and time again.
With players like Chelsea’s Fran Kirby who has bagged two goals and five assists in England’s three Qualifying games so far, or Manchester City’s Nikita Parris who has netted four times, their forward line is a force to be reckoned with.
Ranked third in the world, England have played three, conceded none and scored an impressive 15 so far in qualification. Wales on the other hand have played four, are also yet to concede but have only scored three times. In fact, over the past year, we’ve won seven and four of those have been by a single goal to nil.
Additionally, all of Wales’ qualifying games to date have been against countries ranked below them. When facing higher ranked opposition in the twelve months, Wales have managed to win one, draw two and lose three, which may be a cause for concern come game day at St Mary’s on April 6th.
The victory over Finland, and the final game against Austria, however just goes to show that we are more than capable of holding our own against opposition ranked higher than us. We can defend when we need to and we can get a goal when we need to – cough Kayleigh Green’s stunner against Austria cough.
Stats only show what has already happened, not what is to happen. Stats may be set in stone for the past, but they do not define the future. Sure the stats may favour England, but in football that means nothing, just ask Iceland.
In the words of Jayne Ludlow at the beginning of the year; “The girls will step onto that pitch and fight for everything they can get.” I certainly don’t doubt that because with the quality, passion and tenacity our girls have shown again and again, we all know what they are capable of.
A fiery dawn is breaking for Wales Women and – with an unbeaten World Cup Qualifying record – it’s shining brightly. The Lionesses therefore, better get their sunnies on, because the dragons are coming for them.
Jordan Harris is a sports writer behind The Beautiful Game, a website featuring articles and videos promoting women’s football in Wales.
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