Wilkinson targets top spot in EURO qualifiers

Cymru will complete the first stage of UEFA Women’s EURO qualifying this month, and while eight points from the opening four games in Group B4 has confirmed a play-off place, head coach Rhian Wilkinson is expecting a strong finish from her squad as they look to claim top spot.

“These are not games for experimenting now,” explained Wilkinson when announcing her squad. “We are clear on what we need to be doing in these next two games. The draws with Ukraine were not a huge setback, but I’m not going to lie and say they were not a let down. Had we walked through our qualifying campaign we wouldn’t have been as ready for the play-offs. I think feeling a little pain there will help us, we probably should have won at least one game against Ukraine, but we didn’t.”

Currently sitting in second place and a point behind Croatia following the 1-1 and 2-2 draws with Ukraine during the last international window, the two teams will meet in Karlovac on Friday, 12 July (7.15pm) before Cymru return to Llanelli on Tuesday, 16 July to take on Kosovo at Parc-y-Scarlets (6pm). Wilkinson’s side eased past Croatia and Kosovo 4-0 and 6-0 respectively back in April, and repeating that would guarantee a seeded position in the play-off draw as well as promotion to League A for the next edition of the UEFA Women’s Nations League.

Croatia recovered from that 4-0 defeat to Cymru in Wrexham by defeating Ukraine and then Kosovo twice, but they have only registered four goals from their four matches in this campaign. Meanwhile, Kosovo sit bottom of the group having lost all four of their opening games and are still searching for their first goal.

“We went into the last camp wanting two wins,” she added. “But it was the camp we needed, absolutely, it was a reality check. I speak to the coaches before I speak to the players at the end of a game because emotions are always high after full-time, but I feel like what I said was the right thing. This isn’t the camp we wanted, but it’s absolutely the camp we needed. It’s all in our hands and we know we have to show up and deliver. It’s football, this is what the game is, and we’re going to play games in the future where we dominate and play well but don’t win.”

Injuries have ruled Josie Green, Elise Hughes, Esther Morgan and Hannah Cain out of the squad, but centurions Jess Fishlock and Angharad James are included, even though they and their Seattle Reign team-mate Lily Woodham will play for their club in the United States just five days before the match against Croatia.

“They’re going to have huge a amount of travel plus recovery from their game,” said Wilkinson. “They’re travelling the next day so it’s not ideal, but that’s our reality. They’re in a great situation in Seattle, but it’s it’s hard travel, so they’ll definitely miss some sessions. But the meetings are important and they’ll be seeing the sessions, and that way they’ll be ready to go.”

Although Wilkinson was clear that this is not the time to experiment with her team, two teenage newcomers in Amy Richardson and Cadi Rodgers have been included, and are two of five uncapped players in the squad. “We’ve had injuries and we are continuing to do what we have done from the beginning which is making sure that these camps are used as opportunities to see our younger players,” she explained.

“There’s probably three quarters of the squad that’s pretty clear, if not more, then there’s a few spaces available. I speak to the U19 coach, the U17 coach as well as the pathway coaches, and there’s always good discussions about who is ready to be seen and who plays in a position that we need to see some depth in. In this camp I’m looking forward to seeing Cadi and Amy specifically, who I haven’t seen before.”

Following Sophie Ingle’s decision to relinquish the captaincy after the opening two games of the current campaign, the armband remains a subject of debate, and Wilkinson explained that the position is still under consideration. “Camps are very quick, and this is a big decision and not one I’m afraid to make, but also one I have to respect properly,” she added. “I don’t feel like a have to name a captain because the media is asking about it.

“The players have no issues about it and we do speak about it. I know who will be wearing the armband next camp, but that’s an internal thing before it ever becomes public. I think I have a rough plan of how I would like the captaincy to work and then there’s what actually happens in camp and the realities of it. I do work a lot with the staff who know the players far better than I do, and there’s good discussions on what we want to do. Is it going to be a single person? That’s also a question to ask because sometimes, we may get caught up in the archaic way of doing things in football.”

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Cymru v Kosovo

6pm Tuesday 16 July, Parc y Scarlets

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