Cymru manager Gemma Grainger has returned from Australia having been a part of the FIFA Technical Study Group at the Women’s World Cup and has shared her experiences and observations ahead of Sunday’s final between Spain and England.
One of twelve experts from across the world selected to analyse every match at the tournament from a technical, tactical and physical perspective, Grainger’s work will now play a key role in shaping the future of the women’s game as the reports are used as a benchmark to influence coach education and player development across the world. Analysing a total of eight games in Melbourne and Brisbane, it also proved to be a valuable scouting mission for the Cymru manager ahead of the inaugural UEFA Women’s Nations League which starts next month.
“I would produce a tactical report on both teams and it would take around four to six hours to complete the report for each game,” explained Grainger to FAW.cymru. “I would watch it live and code it for clips to compliment the report, which was essentially separated into different phases of the game. So for example, in possession would be from the build-up to the progression phase and then to the finish phase, then the same for out of possession, same for transition etc, and then I would also give a general overview of the game with clips to support the detail. It was a really in-depth piece of work.”
The FIFA Technical Study Group was led by Jill Ellis, who won consecutive World Cups with the United States in 2015 and 2019. “It was unbelievable to work alongside someone like Jill who has achieved so much success as a coach,” Grainger added. “I was fortunate to watch games involving Germany and Denmark, who we play in the UEFA Nations League, which was really important for me. Across the tournament I got to really look at the highest-level of the game and understand the latest tactical developments and trends. For me as a coach it was an invaluable experience.
“The performances of the African nations really stood out for me. They are now more tactically organised and prepared, and ultimately harder to beat. Nigeria took England to penalties and it was a great tactical performance from them, especially out of possession, and they executed their game plan really well. They’re not as technically proficient as the European nations, but they’re certainly making strides forward. We’ve also seen some excellent young players coming through as a result of the investment that’s taking place, and some nations, like Colombia, are really closing the gap.”
Although Grainger is now fully-focused on Cymru’s return to competitive action next month against Iceland and Denmark, she will have a vested interest in the final on Sunday as Spain take on England in Sydney. During her time with the Lionesses, Grainger coached a number of Sarina Wiegman’s current squad, and offered her take on where the final could be won and lost. “The two teams know each other very well so tactically it will be a battle for sure,” she explained. “It will be interesting to see if England go with a back four or a back three, and I think that will be a key decision for them.
“I think the final will be a tight one, like most finals are, and I think it will depend on which team gets the first goal and keeps that momentum. When you get to this stage of a tournament, momentum is key, and we saw that with England in the semi-final against Australia when Lauren Hemp scored the second goal. Spain have got a great determination, which I’ve seen at youth age groups when they’ve won tournaments and people have always wondered when their time would come. We’re going to have a new winner, which is great for the women’s game, and I think this final will be the platform for taking the game to the next level.”
Cymru have never qualified for the finals of a major tournament and missed out on place in Australia through a narrow defeat to Switzerland in the play-offs. However, while qualification for EURO 2025 is a key target, Grainger believes that tournament is also ready for expansion. “One of the things that stood out for me at the World Cup with FIFA was the level of investment,” she explained. “It’s really progressed with the expansion to 32 teams and I think the tournament has shown that was the right decision to make. It also showed to me that UEFA is the strongest region for qualification, and I’m hoping now that the EURO’s can expand to 24 teams. In my opinion it’s ready for it, and this World Cup only supports that.”
Tickets for Cymru’s next UEFA Nations League home match, against Denmark on Tuesday 26 September at the Cardiff City Stadium, are available to buy on the FAW ticketing website.