Craig Knight says he feels privileged to be working with Cymru’s next generation after guiding the under-17s to the 2023 UEFA European Under-17 Championship qualifying Elite Round.
Cymru were the only team to go through their qualifying group unbeaten – following a win and two draws – as they topped Group 7 above hosts Croatia, Sweden and Albania last week.
“Before travelling out there, you obviously want to qualify, but to actually then top the group shows what this squad is about,”Craig Knight
“I think the most pleasing thing is the players got their just rewards. I think sometimes in football at times you don’t always get your rewards because external factors might play a part, with a bit of unluckiness or a decision not going your way. But the players showed a real focus, application and sacrifice across those 12 days.
“It’s a really proud job that I’ve got and I love working with these players. I see them develop, not only as players, but people as well. I think a lot of the staff do a great job in the regional camps early on in their pathway just to explain the values and what it means to represent their country, both on and off the pitch.”
Goals from Joseph Hatch and Troy Perrett gave Cymru an impressive 2-0 win over Croatia in their opening qualifier.
That was was followed up by a 3-3 draw with Sweden, where they twice trailed by two goals but secured a point following a dramatic last-gasp free-kick from Luey Giles.
Cymru knew a victory or draw against Albania in their final qualifier would be enough to see them progress to the next round, and they secured the point they needed with a 0-0 scoreline.
“To start with Croatia, it doesn’t get much tougher than that really, but there was a 25-minute period in the first half where we were just outstanding and it’s some of the best football I’ve seen from a young Welsh team. Croatia were humble enough to admit that after and their coaches were really impressed, so we actually blew them away in that period of the game. That was really pleasing to get off to such a flying start like that.
“We were probably a yard off at times early on in the Sweden game and quality teams will play around you at this level, but the group showed character to find a way to come back. I’m sure everyone saw the scenes with the last kick of the game from Luey Giles, so it was a really emotional moment for all the boys and they certainly enjoyed that one.
“It was a different type of pressure for the Albania game, knowing you only need a point and they needed to win. It was just a case of concentrating throughout the game against a tricky opponent who don’t concede goals.”
Cymru will discover their opponents for the Elite Round later this year when the draw takes place at the UEFA Headquarters in Nyon.
The 2023 UEFA European Under-17 Championship finals will then take place between May and June 2023, with 16 teams able to qualify for the tournament in Hungary.
“For the staff as well supporting the players. I’m just delighted that everyone involved got their just rewards and now we’ve got to look forward to another three quality games in the new year,” he added.
“There are still a number of groups being concluded over the next few weeks, so I’ll have a better idea of which teams have made it with us. But we’re in the pot and we’re delighted.”