The year in review 2023 – Cymru intermediate teams

While progression through the Welsh football pathway remains the primary remit of the Cymru intermediate teams, there has been success on the field this year headlined by the MU17 team reaching the UEFA U17 EURO Finals and the U21 side challenging at the top of their qualifying group. 

Cymru U21

It has been a successful start to what is a new era for the Cymru U21 team as Matty Jones replaced Paul Bodin as manager in September 2022 and he began the year at UEFA HQ for the 2025 U21 EURO qualifying draw that placed his side in Group I with Denmark, Iceland, Czechia and Lithuania on the road to the finals which will take place in Slovakia.

“I suppose you have to accept the fact that you’re going to be against better quality at times and then lower-ranked teams,” said Jones following the draw. “So, I suppose the ultimate thing for us is to achieve what is important to us. It’s exciting for us that we’ve got the fixtures and the vision moving forward in terms of what our future looks like.”

Former Cymru international Neil Taylor was added to the U21 coaching staff ahead of the opening game and the side recorded a 3-0 friendly win over Scotland in Pinatar in March through goals from Josh Farrell, Joe Low and Josh Thomas. Rubin Colwill then scored twice from the penalty spot in the opening qualifier away to Denmark in June to earn his side a valuable point in a 2-2 draw in the first of three away games.

An impressive 4-0 September friendly win over Liechtenstein in Newport set the tone for the trip to Lithuania a few days later and goals from Luke Harris, Fin Stevens and substitute Joel Cotterill edged a five-goal thriller in Jonava as the home side scored twice in injury-time. A superb late, late equaliser from Cian Ashford then earned Cymru a point in Czechia a month later to maintain their undefeated start to the campaign.

“We’ve played against higher-ranked teams,” said Jones ahead of two home games against Iceland and Denmark in November. “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.” Joe Low was the hero at Rodney Parade as Iceland were defeated 1-0, but Denmark would inflict a first defeat on Cymru as they claimed a 2-1 victory a few days later. However, the side end the year in a strong position ahead of their return to qualifying when they host Lithuania in March 2024.

Cymru MU19

Rob Edwards’ Cymru MU19 squad played six friendlies as they prepared for their UEFA qualifiers in October, claiming victories over Scotland and Finland in March and September respectively, while also drawing 1-1 with Sweden in June. However, it would prove to be a difficult campaign for the side as Cymru finished bottom of Group 12, despite drawing the first two games.

The competitive action would take place in Montenegro and Cymru made a solid start as Austria were held to a 0-0 draw. Ben Lloyd was then on target for the side in Podgorica a few days later to claim an impressive point against England in a 1-1 draw, but the decisive match against the hosts would prove to be a step too far as Montenegro eased to a 3-0 victory to reach the Elite Round along with Austria.

Cymru MU17

It has been a memorable 2023 for the Cymru MU17 side which was headlined by qualification for the UEFA U17 EURO Finals. Success was achieved as Craig Knight’s side won their Elite Round group back in March with an opening 4-2 victory over Scotland before 1-1 and 2-2 draws with Iceland and Montenegro respectively confirmed their place at the finals in Hungary just two months later.

A tough start against the hosts resulted in a 3-0 defeat and the scoreline was repeated with a second reverse against the Republic of Ireland. However, goals from Gabriele Biancheri and a double from Iwan Morgan against Poland in the final group game meant that the tournament would end on a high for Cymru.

“I’m desperately hungry to experience it again,” said Knight after the tournament. “It was another level in terms of the preparation and the media spotlight on the players and ourselves. It was a pleasure to be around it and to be the first Cymru team to do it in over 40 years reinforces what we actually achieved.”

A new era would begin for Knight as a new-look squad then looked to follow in their footsteps. Preparations for the next qualifying campaign began with their participation at the Syrenka Cup competition in Poland in August, but the qualifiers against Gibraltar, Israel and Belgium were initially postponed in October and eventually played in November when Cymru hosted the mini-tournament.

Israel withdrew from the competition, but Cymru made an impressive start to their campaign with a 1-0 win over Belgium as Elliott Myles scored a superb injury-time goal to claim the victory in Cardiff. Oliver Bostock, Cruz Allen, Iestyn Jones and Louis Griffiths were then all on target in a 4-0 win against Gibraltar in Newport to ensure Cymru’s place in the Elite Round next year. Following the 2023/24 Under-17 EURO Elite Round draw in December, Cymru confirmed their position in Group 2, set to face Bulgaria, Sweden and Romania in March of 2024.

Cymru WU19

Nic Anderson’s squad enjoyed home advantage for their Group B6 fixtures back in April as Tianna Teisar and Manon Pearce both scored twice before Lauren Purchase added the fifth in a 5-2 win over Kazakhstan at Denbigh. Teisar was again on target in the second match as the side claimed a 4-0 win over Estonia to win the group and gain promotion back to Group A with a goal from Ella Humphrey and a brace from Bethan McGowan completing the campaign.

“Now we play more games and that gives players the opportunity to apply themselves against the best teams in Europe,” said Anderson as the side headed to Newport in October. “Every team will offer a different sort of challenge, but our main focus is on ourselves and applying our own performance in each of those games and that’s the mindset we will take into it.”

However, a 3-0 defeat against Czechia was followed by a 6-1 loss to England despite Rebecca Guy opening the scoring at Dragon Park. A 3-0 defeat to Greece a few days later ended their return to Group A as relegation was confirmed. “In Group A we have to show more physicality and catch-up that way,” Anderson added.

Cymru WU17

It was a tough start to the year for Nia Davies’s WU17 side as they were relegated from Group A7 in March following defeats to the Netherlands, Finland and Sweden. “The biggest thing we learnt is that we can compete against these teams,” said Davies. “We just have to sustain that a little bit longer and be a little bit more adaptable when they change their tactics. As a coaching team and the players on the pitch we have to recognise when that happens and combat their changes if needed.”

A defeat, a win and a draw followed against Portugal, Denmark and Italy as the side competed in a friendly tournament in Portugal in September. The fixtures would prove to be valuable ahead of the Group B4 fixtures that would follow in November as the squad headed to Albania, and opened the campaign with a 2-0 win over the hosts through goals from Nia Lewis and Ffion Bowen.

Casi Gregson was the hero against Kazakhstan in their second game as she scored the only goal in a 1-0 victory, and promotion was confirmed on the final day as Gregson and Lewis both scored twice in a comfortable 6-0 win over the Faroe Islands in Tirana, with Charlotte Salisbury-Williams and Elena Cole completing the scoring for the eventual group winners.

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