Gemma Grainger will bring closure to the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup qualifying campaign this week as her Cymru squad head to Spain for a training camp and an international friendly against Finland at the Pinatar Arena on Saturday, 12 November (6.30pm).
“We’re playing Finland because they’re a higher-ranked team and when we go out there I want us to put in a winning performance,” said Granger at the squad announcement. “We want to have the same mentality that we had during the last campaign. We have a core eleven but we want to develop our squad depth and we want to have players who can compete at that level. It’s about being really clear with the players about what it takes to be a starting international player in this team in terms of the mentality and standards. We’re going to close a chapter and review the last campaign, but the game against Finland is the next step.”
Cymru made history by reaching the World Cup play-off final last month but suffered a narrow 2-1 defeat against Switzerland in Zurich when Fabienne Humm scored the winning goal in the final seconds of extra-time. “The first couple of weeks after the Switzerland game were tough,” explained Granger. “Heartbreaking I think is the word we all would probably use. When you get so close to something and then it’s taken away from you, and you’ve worked for 18 months to get to that point, you can’t hide those emotions.”
The campaign also made history with the play-off semi-final against Bosnia and Herzegovina at the Cardiff City Stadium attracting over 15,000 fans. “The players and the staff should be really proud how they’ve inspired people and that’s probably what I’m proudest of when I look back at the campaign,” Grainger added. “It’s overwhelming to think of the crowd from the Bosnia game and overwhelming to see the impact these players are having on people’s lives. Our development is right on track and we’re looking forward to the European Championships.”
Jess Fishlock is once again included in the squad and Grainger recently travelled to Seattle to watch the 35-year midfielder in action for OL Reign in their 2-0 defeat against Kansas City. “I can see why she plays significant minutes in America,” Grainger explained. “I went out there thinking could Jess play a little bit less, like some of the other players out there, but having seen her in that team I absolutely know why the manager does not take her off the pitch. She’s like an additional coach leading the team and it’s a real credit to her. So for me it’s all about how we look after her as she’s so important to us and such a crucial part of our team.”
The draw for UEFA Women’s EURO 2025 will take place early next year with the qualifying campaign scheduled to start in September 2023. “I think at the end of a campaign, naturally there are changes in the player group and in the staff group as well,” said Grainger. “There’s been a noticeable change in the technical group with Richard Thomas moving on, and I would like to thank him for everything he did for us in the last campaign.” Thomas departs to take up the role of assistant manager of Colchester United, while Gemma Lewis has been appointed as the first Women and Girls’ Player Pathway Manager.
“I will be looking to integrate new players into the team and maybe a new playing style as we continue to evolve,” Grainger added. “So it will be a different looking team come September. I don’t know what that looks like right now, but I can guarantee that the planning that goes into it will be very thorough. Player identification is a huge priority for us and a key part of any successful team. For me to be able to select from a bigger player pool, and a more competitive player pool, is one of my number one priorities.”