Jayne Ludlow has promised Wales will build on their World Cup campaign – despite the breaking of the dam on Friday night when England secured their place at the tournament finals.
Wales’ wall of resistance had gone 867 minutes without conceding a goal until their final qualifier caved in as they conceded three goals inside 12 minutes in a 3-0 defeat at Rodney Parade.
The result means England will be at the finals in France next year while the Welsh women – who have delivered a transformational campaign in so many ways – must now hope others results go in their favour to provide a second chance through the play-offs.
Ludlow was proud of her team’s efforts, whilst also being honest enough to admit that organisation, workrate and spirit can only take a team so far once mistakes are made under severe pressure.
“I am pleased we can see then next step for us, but we have to make sure we are strong enough in the future,” said the Wales manager.
“There is still hope for us and we will hold onto that for as long as that. If we don’t get a play-off place, then we look to the future.
“Players will learn from this campaign. They should feel like me and want more.
“Wales has woken up to a women’s football team. We have to build on that, but it’s about success.”
Should Wales fail to make the play-offs – and the odds look stacked against it, given the records of others and Wales’ own lack of goals – then a number of this squad are expected to retire.
Veterans Jess Fishlock and Helen Ward are the most likely, but Ludlow insists those decisions have yet to be made.
“There are conversations to have with players such as Jess, but they are not conversations I’m having tonight.”
Instead, the woman who has overseen an astonishing improvement in Wales’ standards and their stature in international football, preferred to concentrate on the benefits of a campaign that has opened so many eyes to women’s football in Wales.
“It was a bigger thing than just the results. In 10 years’ time, hopefully there will be a much bigger pool of players to choose from.
“It would be really nice to have a fully professional Wales team for future campaigns, but at the moment we don’t have one.
“We have grown a lot over the past 10 years because what has happened over the bridge. We have to now take that on ourselves. We have been out outstanding in qualification, but we made errors.”
After a tight first half, Phil Neville’s side scored three goals in 12 second-half minutes through Toni Duggan, Jill Scott and Nikita Parris to qualify for the finals as Group 1 winners with a game to spare.
The defeat leaves Wales, who will finish second in the group, at the mercy of the play-off qualification rules. Only four of the seven second-placed sides will make it into the two-legged ties for a place in France next year, and Ludlow’s side have to rely on results going their way in midweek.
She added: “This campaign has been fantastic for every single member of our squad, but the reality is that we weren’t good enough. In the future we need to be.
“These girls want to compete at the highest level and they are capable of that. But we have to show it.
“We came out to compete and for 60 minutes we did. We have to be good enough for 90 minutes and in the future we will be.
“Tonight we saw glimpses of our next stage, but the next campaign is one we are looking to immensely.
“They were simple errors – errors that we hadn’t made all the way through this campaign. We came up against a top nation tonight and people can see that. There is a reason why they have qualified for major tournaments. For us, there was hope tonight. But we have made errors and we can correct them.
“The reality is we are 29th in the world and they are fourth. There were times tonight when that gulf wasn’t there but it’s a 90 minute game and we have to be better.”
England manager Neville said: “I went straight over to the Welsh players after the final whistle because they have been fantastic in this campaign.
“They took us all the way to the wire and should be unbelievably proud.
“Normally the group is wrapped up by this stage, but they took us all the way. That was good for us and we felt the pressure this week.
“This was the biggest game of my career with England so far. I’m happy we are going to France, but not totally happy with the way we played tonight. But we will enjoy tonight, look forward to Kazakhstan and we are then going to France.
“For 30 minutes we controlled the game and then we started listening to the crowd. At half-time I told them to relax and pass the ball. In the end, our quality showed, but their goalkeeper was unbelievable.”