Wales’ women aim high

International Football – FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015 – Qualifying Group 6- Wales v Ukraine
Gary Pritchard

Gary Pritchard

Tuesday, 6 May 2014, 14:02

On Thursday night, Wales’ Women return to Bangor to play an international match for the first time since 1997.

The women’s team was only officially adopted by the Football Association of Wales in 1992 and back then, Bangor City Girls were a force to be reckoned with.

Players such as Cheryl Foster, Tania Jones, Manon Lloyd Williams and the current Welsh number one, Nicola Davies, were all integral parts of the Citizens and Welsh squad of the time.

City were also the first club to represent Wales in the Womens Uefa Cup in 2002 and the name of Bangor City Girls is etched onto the FAW Women’s Cup three times.

Unfortunately, no women’s side exists in the city today, but depite this, women’s football continues to go from strength to strength in Wales.

The visitors to Nantporth on Thursday will be Montenegro and Wales will be hoping to dispatch the bottom placed side in Group 6 and continue their march towards the World Cup in Canada 2015.

It speaks volumes for Wales’ development as a footballing nation that the side were disappointed with having to settle for a 1-1 draw with the group’s second seeds, Ukraine, last month, this despite the fact that Wales are the group’s fourth seeds.

Having beaten Belarus 1-0 in their opening match, Wales managed to stifle England for long periods of their match before finally succumbing to a 0-2 defeat in the second game of the campaign.

With England already having racked up six goals against Belarus, eight against Turkey and nine against Montenegro, frustrating the group’s top seeds and keeping them from scoring for fun was a huge positive for Wales.

And a further positive step towards the goal of World Cup qualification was the 5-1 thrashing of Turkey in Eskişehir ahead of the 1-1 draw with Ukraine in Llanelli.

So what is responsible for the relative progress made by Wales’ Women?

I don’t think it’s too much of a leap of faith to say that the biggest factor has to be the passion, vision and hard work of manager, Jarmo Matikainen.

The Finn was appointed at the beginning of 2010 with the brief to lead, not just the senior Women’s side, but to develop the women’s game in Wales as a whole.

At the time, Wales were ranked 50th on Fifa’s rankings system, had just lost against Azerbaijan in Baku in the 2011 World Cup qualifiers and had lost their catain, Jayne Ludlow.

Ludlow, the Arsenal captain and one of the stars of women’s football, had walked out on the national team following a falling out with then manager, Adrian Tucker, and had been very critical of the FAW over the years.

To be fair to the FAW – a sentence I don’t write very often (!) – it was decided a complete overhaul was required and Matikainen was appointed the women’s team’s first full time manager.

Following his appointment, the junior women’s teams have enjoyed more success and have closed the gap on some of Europe’s more established footballing nations.

And the FAW attracted the Uefa’s Womens under 19 tournament to Wales last year which was another much needed boost to women’s football in Wales.

But the biggest improvements have been achieved with the senior side.

In his second game at the helm, Wales got their revenge for the defeat in Baku by crushing Azerbaijan 15-0 at Latham Park, Newtown, and by his fourth game in charge, Matikainen had persuaded Ludlow to return to the fold.

Ludlow has sinced retired again, but this time has taken up a post coaching Wales’ Women’s youth sides.

And her mantle as Wales’ superstar has been taken by Jessica Fishlock – and it’s no exaggeration to say that Fishlock is one of the biggest stars of the women’s game – the men have Gareth Bale, the women have Jess Fishlock!

She started her career with Cardiff City Ladies but her talent and desire to succeed was obvious from a very early age as she moved to join AZ Alkmaar in the Netherlands.

Having collected honours with AZ, Bristol Academy in England, Melbourne Victory in Australia and Glasgow City in Scotland, she is now making her mark as one of the few overseas players in the USA’s professional league with Seattle Reign.

Fishlock has long been an admirer of Matikainen and his vision and has thanked him on several occasions for seeing this squad’s potential.

The aim for Wales now is the familiar one of trying to realise that potential and reach a major championships.

Canada in 2015 isn’t out of their grasp, so come down to Nantporth on Thursday and cheer on a real Welsh footballing success story.