Grainger calls on Red Wall for new campaign

Cymru manager Gemma Grainger has called on the Red Wall to get behind her side when the inaugural UEFA Women’s Nations League kicks-off with a visit to Iceland (22 September) followed by a home fixture against Denmark at the Cardiff City Stadium (26 September).

“The fans without doubt give us a competitive advantage,” said Grainger to “We want to show people who we are. When I attend our games it’s overwhelming to see the support that we have. But what I would love to see is more of the Red Wall, the people who are selling out the men’s games, to come to our games and show that same passion and pride supporting us, because the girls will rise to that. I want to keep breaking attendance records because I want the teams that come here to feel intimidated, to know what it means to be Welsh and to be supported by those fans.”

A new attendance record of 15,200 was set in the last qualifying campaign as Jess Fishlock scored the only goal in the play-off victory over Bosnia and Herzegovina in Cardiff. Although Cymru would eventually miss out on a place at the FIFA Women’s World Cup with a defeat to Switzerland in the next match, their recent performance in a friendly away to the United States, despite being without a number of key players, showed just how far this side has progressed. Although two late goals gave the hosts a 2-0 victory before they headed off to the World Cup, the way Cymru applied themselves showed exactly why the next qualifying campaign could be the one that finally takes the side to their first major tournament.

“The decision to take that game was the right decision,” explained Grainger about the match in California.  “When the world champions ask to play you, you say yes. Also, there are so many experiences that you can try and replicate for your team outside of competitive games, and that one was really special. There were so many things that we got out of the game both on and off the pitch. To play them out of season, when they were in full stride going to the World Cup, with the players that we had missing, it was such a huge opportunity for the rest of the team. What we took out of it was our ability to perform at that level, but that didn’t surprise me because I know this team are ready.”

Cymru have been drawn into League A3 alongside Germany, Denmark and Iceland for the UEFA Women’s Nations League, and the final standings from the competition will shape the EURO 2025 qualifying campaign that begins next year. “We’ve played Iceland and Denmark previously and we’re closing the gap all the time,” Grainger added. “The Nations League is a platform for qualification, but the ultimately qualification is next April, June and July, and I’m focused on what that looks like. The Nations League is the next step for us, but we have to be ready for next year, and we’ve looked ahead by playing games out of season to prepare us for that. We want to make sure that as a team we are physically, technically and tactically ready.

“To play the world champions was a marker for us going to into the Nations League as we’re playing against the higher-ranked opposition. We know we’re the fourth seeds in the group, but the U.S. didn’t expect the game that we gave them. From the time we arrived with the fans and the noise it had a real tournament atmosphere about it, so for the players to feel that will be a reference point for them. I don’t think we’ll face anything tougher than going to the States and I’m pleased with the progress we’ve made. It’s my job to make sure this team keeps moving forward.

“The investment that the FAW has given from a resource and staff perspective means we have some of the best staff working with these players off the field, and ultimately that prepares them to be excellent on it. We don’t leave any stone unturned because there are fine margins. I’m really pleased with the development of our players as well, particularly some of our young players. We’ve got a real mix in the team, we’ve got some well-known senior players, but now and over the last two years we’ve seen players who weren’t playing the starting XI getting a regular place. That’s also part of my job, not just what’s happening now, but making sure that we safeguarding the future of the team as well.”

But while performances and results will determine success on the field, pushing boundaries off the field will also define this Cymru side. “The fans are why we do what we do,” Grainger explained. “We’re really clear on ‘for us, for them, for her’. One of the most exciting things about the next campaign is the social change and the way that females are perceived in Wales as that means as much to me and the players as performances on the pitch. When I spend time around Wales, I really see the impact that we’re making. I honestly think that in Wales this team is loved and will continue to be loved because of who the players are and how relatable they are. Nothing means more to these players than representing their country.”

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