Ahead of two friendlies against Slovakia this week, Wales Women’s team manager Jayne Ludlow said as she announced her squad that the games would be another opportunity to develop an identity and style of play that will bring success.
The Welsh won their first fixture on Monday 1-0 thanks to a 55th minute goal from Helen Ward, and were leading 1-0 in the second game on Wednesday but eventually lost 2-1.
Pessimists will say, given that Wales conceded a lead to lose the second game, the style of play needs more work. Looking at each game individually though, I disagree.
Wales fielded a full-strength team in the first game on Monday and, despite what the score suggests, they absolutely decimated Slovakia – particularly in the first half – and could have been 4-0 up at half-time.
The main criticism of Wales in that game is that they didn’t finish their chances as Ward in particular could have had a hat-trick and a few others could have got their names on the score-sheet too.
They created an abundance of chances though, something Ludlow told FAW TV she was very happy about, and with Helen Ward returning from recently having given birth, surely it won’t be long before she is back on top form and building on her record total of 33 goals for Wales.
The former Reading Women’s manager also told FAW TV that, having taken the national team job in November, she thinks her tactical ideas and the identity she is trying to develop, is being taken on board by the players:
‘I’d like to think my messages are coming across to the girls, they’re working extremely hard and we’re testing them in every training session – there’s changes to how they’ve played in the past as a group and as individuals but they’re responding really well and performing really well.’
Wales were as good as Slovakia were poor though; Slovakia’s coach was seen at times striking the dugout to express his anger, such was the lack of quality in his team’s performance.
Wednesday’s game was always going to be a slightly different story, not least because one of the team’s star players – Jess Fishlock – had returned to her club, Seattle Reign, following her appearance in Monday’s game.
Furthermore, Slovakia had clearly learnt a lot of lessons from the manner of defeat in the first game as they pressed Wales vigorously right from the offset – something they hadn’t managed previously.
Wales, whilst still dominant in possession and way clear of their opponents in terms of chance creation, hadn’t learnt their lessons as they didn’t finish off the great chances they had.
That being said, the attacking play was excellent. Natasha Harding and Angharad James stood out in what was an excellent all-round midfield performance by Wales in both games.
The two Slovakia goals were fairly soft though, which will have disappointed the Wales camp.
The first saw Skorvankova pick the ball up in the centre circle before running through the entire Wales defence and slotting past goalkeeper Alice Evans. An excellent run, but a tackle probably should have been made.
The second came from an excellent corner by Feckova, which wasn’t dealt with by Wales’ goalkeeper and eventually met by Klechova who scored a bullet header. A great finish again, but appeared to get away from her marker too easily.
Defeat in the second game obviously didn’t go down well as some players expressed their disappointment on Twitter afterwards but all things considered, I don’t think Wales are too far away from where they want to be.
When Ward finds her best form again, Wales will be a different animal. For all of Slovakia’s improvements in the second game, Wales still had enough chances to win comfortably.
Also, with Fishlock not playing and Helen Bleazard not starting, as well as playing a very demanding formation twice in three days, the level of performance may understandably have dipped a few notches.
FAW President Trefor Lloyd Hughes, however, is a strong supporter of Ludlow, praising her work in his programme notes prior to these fixtures, but told me how he felt Wales missed Fishlock:
‘I think with (Jess) Fishlock missing tonight it makes a hell of a difference to the team, she is a top class player and would have made the difference tonight, I think.
‘Natasha (Harding) played well, and played better when she moved out wide. She’s really improved over the last eight months and understands the game very well – she’s a key player too.
Hughes was also optimistic about Wales’ chances in Euro 2017 qualifying, as the draw for qualification takes place on Monday in Nyon:
‘As long as they realise they have a good chance, they’ll be alright in qualifying. This was a good opportunity for them to test themselves in front of a good crowd. I think they have a good chance.’
All in all, a very impressive couple of performances for Wales over the last few days though. Yes, they could have done a couple of things a bit better but there are a lot of positives that will be taken from these two games, and rightly so as Wales were excellent for the most-part.
The draw for the qualifying rounds of Euro 2017 takes place on Monday the 13th of April in Nyon, Switzerland. Wales are ranked 19th among the 40 entrants – of course, I wish them the best of luck going into qualification!