Cymru U21 can move another step closer to making history during the next week as Matty Jones’ side prepare to take on Iceland and Denmark in a double-header at Rodney Parade, Newport on 16 and 20 November.
Cymru have never qualified for the UEFA U21 Euro finals, but currently sit in second place in Group I and are undefeated after their opening three games. Draws with Denmark and Czechia either side of a 3-2 win over Lithuania have put the side in a solid position, and manager Matty Jones believes his squad are stronger for what they have experienced so far.
“The hard-fought point away from home against top seeds Denmark was the start of our campaign,” said Jones at the recent squad announcement. “To then potentially throw the game away against Lithuania when were leading 3-0, they are the experiences that are really quite valuable. It’s not about us getting carried away, we haven’t had three straight wins, but we’re definitely in a good position ahead of this camp.”
There was plenty of drama in their last match as striker Cian Ashford came off the bench in injury-time to score a superb equaliser against Czechia with the last kick of the game, and send Jones sprinting down the touchline in celebration. “It was a fantastic moment,” Jones added. “For Cian Ashford with a fantastic and technically-gifted strike, it was magic for him.
“It showed the character and grit in the group. We had all the challenges thrown at us and it was nice to come away from what was a difficult period of games being away from home with these results. We have a good period ahead of us now where we can really sustain that momentum of positivity and showcase to our fans what we’re about. However, almost every team we’re playing in this campaign have had the experience of playing at a major tournament. We have to stay grounded and humble.”
Jones welcomes back Charlie Savage and Joe Low to the squad following their involvement and senior debuts against Gibraltar last month. “It shows the alignment, relationship and the unity, between the senior team and all the age groups,” said Jones. “We are genuinely a family. The transition between U21 and the seniors is the most important and the pinnacle of my role, but we’re trying to be successful as an age-group as well.
“It’s not difficult if you’re having open and honest conversations with players. It’s about the bigger picture and consolidating that learning and maintain the quality that deserved that opportunity with the seniors. If you manage the culture and the environment right, then players get used to having that blend between seniors and U21 football.”
Cymru have certainly risen to the challenge of playing their opening three games of the campaign away from home, and the support of the Red Wall could play an important part in pushing the side towards qualification for the final that will take place in Slovakia in the summer of 2025. “The dynamic changes now for the players as the onus is on us to take the performances to teams,” Jones added.
“We’ve played against higher-ranked teams. It’s been challenging and it’s been difficult, but it’s allowed us to showcase our robustness defensively and our resilience in our approach. Our counter-attacking ability has got us goals and results, but it slightly changes when you’re at home and the responsibility is on us to be creative and take the game to Iceland and Denmark. Challenges await and I’m sure the players will be prepared for it.”