Wilkinson prepared for tougher Ukraine test

Rhian Wilkinson is ready to take the next step in UEFA Women’s EURO qualification and build on a fantastic start to the campaign as her Cymru side prepare for a double-header against Ukraine.

Cymru head to Llanelli on Friday, 31 May (7.15pm) high in confidence following convincing victories over Croatia and Kosovo in their opening two games last month. Wilkinson only succeeded Gemma Grainger in March but has already made a big impression on the squad as highlighted in the respective 4-0 and 6-0 scorelines of her first two competitive games. However, a tougher test is expected against Ukraine, with the second match taking place in Poland on Tuesday, 4 June.

Ukraine suffered a narrow 1-0 defeat to Croatia after defeating Kosovo in their opening qualifier in Group B4, which is the initial league phase of the campaign which takes place between April and July, with the top three teams in the group progressing to the play-offs. “I thought Ukraine actually had a more dominant display than Croatia in their game,” explained Wilkinson when announcing her squad.

“That’s football, you know, results go different ways. So Ukraine will be a a great test. They’re a new team for us to prepare for and that’s what I’m looking forward to. I think we’ve set a standard, but there was a lot that we need to improve on. We know that these games are important for me to bed in my own philosophies and ideas, for the players to get used to me and the technical staff, for them to get used to each other with a lot of different players and different rotations.

“This is a new opportunity for us to raise the bar, to really tighten up some of the areas which I thought we were a little bit loose on, which is natural,” Wilkinson added. “I don’t mean that as a huge criticism. I gave them a lot of leniency, a lot of leeway to explore what I was asking them to do and then now there’s there’s tightening up that needs to be done to to prepare for stronger opposition, and Ukraine is that, the next team in front of us.”

One player missing from the squad is striker Elise Hughes who suffered an ACL injury while playing a key role in Crystal Palace claiming the Championship title this season and with it promotion to the WSL. “This is football,” Wilkinson added. “Injuries happen, they’re obviously awful and upsetting, and in the women’s game ACL’s are quite a reality at the moment. It’s very, very sad for Elise, but also I’m excited that we’ll hopefully have her back once we qualify for the EURO’s.

“I think every player handles it differently. She’s been in touch, but she’s she’s just going at her own pace, and we’ve talked a lot about that. Every ACL is different and every recovery is different. Obviously, the surgery has happened so every single day now is her road to recovery. She’s doing that as an individual and not in comparison with anyone else. But it gives opportunity. You’ve got to see these unfortunate setbacks as opportunities and that’s how we’ll be looking at it.”

Returning to the squad after injury are Carrie Jones and goalkeeper Safia Middleton-Patel while Poppy Soper, Ellen Jones, Olivia Francis and Tianna Teisar are the four uncapped players in the squad. Meanwhile, there is a wealth of experience in Jess Fishlock, Sophie Ingle and Angharad James, who boast over 400 senior international appearances between the three of them. Ingle relinquished the captaincy following the victory over Croatia and Fishlock subsequently wore the armband for her 150th cap against Kosovo a few days later, but Wilkinson was giving little away on who is likely to lead the team in these upcoming games.

“Sophie did one of the most selfless things I’ve ever seen in football,” she explained. “I think it’s it’s quite normal for team sports teams that whoever wears the armband wears it until it’s sort of ripped off of them or they stop making the team. Sophie has always been someone who has this future outlook, what’s best for the team moving forward. So this was an amazing moment and in that same way I want to respect what she’s done and not rush to appoint someone, and there’s there is a lot of pressure to maybe name someone.

“I think there are a lot of women on this team who could wear the armband and are leaders in different ways, so I’ll take my time to make that appointment.”

Buy your tickets now

Cymru v Ukraine

Friday 31 May. Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli.

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