Cymru are set for another tough test in the UEFA Women’s Nations League as they head to Germany (27 October) and group leaders Denmark (31 October), but manager Gemma Grainger is excited for the challenges ahead as she targets a place at the 2025 UEFA Women’s EURO Finals.
“For me it’s about facing these teams and learning what we need to learn now to help us qualify for the European Championships,” Grainger explained at the recent squad announcement. “Germany are one of the best teams in the world, so for us to test ourselves again at that level is something we’ve never done before. It’s something we want to do because I want to make sure there’s no stone unturned for us going into that European Championship campaign. The performance is the biggest indicator for me. I’m excited for both games as they will take us one step closer towards qualifying for the finals.”
Defeats to Iceland and Denmark in the opening two games means that Cymru sit bottom of League A3, but while the results have been disappointing, Grainger has seen progress in the performances from her side. “The reality is we knew what League A was going to give us in terms of the mindset, the mentality and the challenge,” she added. “We’re excited for the challenge within the group. It’s about taking it a game at a time and learning what we need to learn. We want to compete against the best, so knowing what that level is and by playing top teams back-to-back will get us there. It’s about consistently performing.
“We could be in League B of the Nations League, coming off back-to-back victories and everyone telling me the team are in a great place. We have to look at what the end goal is and trust in the process. I’m not concerned at all. When we look at the Iceland game, it was our best performance as a team against higher ranked opposition. We know we could have won the game, but we didn’t score goals, and that’s something we need to make sure we do at this level. Against Denmark we had chances so that shows us we can compete.”
Leicester City’s Hannah Cain makes a welcome return to the squad after injury, while Reading’s Josie Longhurst is one of three uncapped players selected together with Sunderland duo Ellen Jones and Mary McAteer. “It’s huge for us as a team to have Hannah and her quality back,” said Grainger. “It’s exciting to see her back and I’m pleased for her as well. She’s put a lot of hard work in since returning from her ACL injury. Last month was a little setback for her, but she’s back playing with Leicester so we’re excited to have her back in this team.
“One of our priorities is how we enhance the strength of our team, so it’s about identifying high-potential players. Josie is one of them and we want to give her different experiences. It’s a great opportunity for Josie in terms of the experience she’ll get from these games we’ll be playing in and facing this level of opposition. For the future development of this team, we have to expose players to what the highest level is. For Josie and the other players in the team, to play Germany and Denmark back-to-back is going to be brilliant for them.”
Meanwhile, Jess Fishlock is one of three centurions in the very strong 26-player squad alongside Angharad James and captain Sophie Ingle. “It’s exciting for Jess to see the form that she’s starting to hit,” Grainger added. “It’s about planning to get the best out of her. Jess is performing at that level and she is excited to come back to play for us. We don’t want to lose games, but what we do want to do is trust the process to get us to a place where we qualify for the European Championship.
“The last camp was perfect for that. The story of both games was very different, but from a performance perspective, I’m very much focused around what we did and what we take from both games. In the Denmark game particularly, I think we learnt lessons around what it looks like at this level and the ruthlessness of it. The amount of chances we created is a positive, but actually, what we learnt from it is priceless. The next two games give us the opportunity to do exactly the same.”