Cymru head into must-win Nations League finale

Cymru manager Gemma Grainger is excited about the prospect of playing the final two UEFA Women’s Nations League fixtures at home as her side complete their League A campaign against Iceland (1 December) and Germany (5 December).

It has been a challenging experience competing against the elite of the European game, but Grainger believes the clear signs of progress in their performances will act as a solid foundation when it comes to qualifying for EURO 2025. “We’re feeling very excited about the camp,” said Grainger. “The back-to-back nature of the camps means that we obviously see the players a lot, which is great. I’ve been out to the clubs the last few weeks to see the players and we’re just very excited to play these final two games.”

Rachel Rowe returns to the squad together with Ceri Holland and Hannah Cain, while Morgan Rogers is one of two uncapped players alongside Ellen Jones. “One of our main focuses is to make sure that we develop our young players,” Grainger explained. “How we do that is by giving them exposure to different camps. This camp is a perfect camp for Morgan. It’s an opportunity for her to come in and continue that development. The exposure at this level, as we’ve seen over the last few camps for our players, is invaluable.”

Cymru suffered a 1-0 defeat away to Iceland at the start of the campaign back in September, and now a two-goal victory is required if Grainger’s side are to have any chance of avoiding relegation to League B. “We were disappointed not to score,” she added. “They’re a very good team and they’re very well organised.

But one thing we will have is a plan to make sure that we have opportunities and that we can put ourselves in the best position.

“These last two games for us are about being better than we were the first time. So we want to make sure that our performances are better, we want to be more competitive, and ultimately, we want to go into the Iceland game and win by two clear goals. That’s the goal for that game. And then, when we have done that, we’ll then look at and assess the Germany game in terms of what the situation is. But we want to play better against Germany than we did out in Germany in the last window.”

Cymru suffered back-to-back 5-1 defeats to Denmark and Germany, but a much-improved performance and a tactical change in the return match against Denmark at the end of October resulted in a narrow 2-1 reverse. “The Denmark away game was a really good performance,” said Grainger. “I think we’ll move between all the formations, and in terms of tactical flexibility, it’s given us another part of the puzzle in terms of what we may use moving forward. It’s another point for us as a team to be able to utilise.”

The match against Iceland will take place at the Cardiff City Stadium before the side head to Swansea for the first time since 2018 to complete the campaign against Germany. “We’re two and a half years into something here,” Grainger added. “We can’t get too far ahead of ourselves, but what we have to do is keep taking steps forward. And the Iceland game gives us a chance to do that. One of the things we talked about when we played Denmark the second time around was that we have to get better every time we play teams. And if we are better, I think we put ourselves in a great position to win the game.”

Captain Sophie Ingle will again lead Cymru into these final two games, and the Chelsea midfielder recently became the record appearance holder in the Women’s Super League when she made her 184th appearance. “To break that record and to do it at that club is a magnificent achievement,” said Grainger. “She’s very humble in her approach and the way she goes about everything. It’s a huge honour that we have her in this team and that she represents this nation. I spoke to her at the weekend, she’s delighted, but delighted in a Sophie Ingle way, which is the most humble way possible.”

But while the immediate focus is very much on achieving the necessary victory over Iceland, Grainger is clear that these experiences remain part of the long-term goal to qualify for EURO 2025. “We know what our longer term vision is,” she explained. “There’s 16 places, and this Nation’s League has taken us further towards it rather than further away from it. I’ve spoke about it a lot. We want to be in League A, we want to play these games, and we want to finish this campaign and go into next year in the best position possible. I’m constantly reinforcing that mindset with this group. The resilience that is required and the attributes that we’re talking about here will help us to qualify for a major tournament.”

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