By Hannah Blackwell
Angharad James will realise a dream when she captains Wales against the USA in a friendly in San Jose, California on Sunday.
The Tottenham midfielder will wear the armband instead of Sophie Ingle as Wales’ regular skipper is suspended.
Gemma Grainger’s Wales side are providing four-time world champions USA with their final opposition before the World Cup.
“When Gemma told me it was a very proud moment,” said 29-year-old James.
“I’m honoured to lead the girls out. Something I hadn’t thought of up until now – for me and my family it will be a great moment, a dream come true.
“I would do anything to have Sophie in the team. But it’s a dream come true to be captain.”
Angharad James will captain Wales in their international friendly against the United States of America on Sunday, 9 July ⚽#BBCFootball
— BBC Sport Wales (@BBCSportWales) July 7, 2023
With less than three weeks until opening the group stage in New Zealand, the USA will play their final tune-up against a Wales side who narrowly missed out on World Cup qualification.
Sunday’s game will be the first meeting between the USA and Wales, nations that met recently at the 2022 Men’s World Cup in Qatar, playing out a 1-1 draw in the opening game of the group stage.
Wales narrowly missed out on qualifying for the 2023 Women’s’ World Cup. They finished second in Group 1 in qualifying and then advanced to the play-offs, where they defeated Bosnia and Herzegovina in extra time in the first round, winning 1-0 thanks to a goal from Jess Fishlock.
But Wales lost to Switzerland, 2-1, after the extra time in the play-off final. Rhiannon Roberts scored in the 19th minute to give Wales the lead, but Switzerland equalized in the 45th minute and dramatically won the game in the 121st minute to avoid penalties.
James added: “I know the importance of the group and how we need everyone.
“If we are going to be successful we need all 23 players, so the value I put on the whole squad and the younger players we’ve got coming through.
“I see myself as a leader that’s preparing us now but also preparing for the future.
“We’ve enjoyed ourselves here but we’re here to do a job and upset the party a little bit.
“We’re playing against the world champions, what better way to test ourselves, see how far we’ve come so far and maybe how far we’ve still got to go.
“I believe in this group, and I know we can be successful.”
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But since that World Cup heartbreak, Wales have been on a six-game unbeaten run, closing 2022 with 1-1 draw against Finland and then opening 2023 with a 1-0 victory over the Philippines at the Pinatar Cup.
Wales also earned draws against Iceland (0-0) and Scotland (1-1) before returning home to Cardiff, where they defeated Northern Ireland 4-1 to open the April international window.
Wales then travelled to Portugal and played the hosts – a team the USA will face in the third group stage match of the World Cup – to a 1-1 draw after a 73rd minute equaliser from striker Rachel Rowe.
The match is certain to be a special one for Jess Fishlock, who will add to her 141 caps in the country where she has played much of her club football.
Now 36, Fishlock had been under contract with OL Reign since 2013, where she has been a longtime teammate of the USA’s Megan Rapinoe and currently also plays alongside Alana Cook, Sofia Huerta, Rose Lavelle and Emily Sonnett.
During her time in Seattle, Fishlock has helped the club win three NWSL Shields (2014, 2015, 2022), was named the 2021 NWSL Most Valuable Player and is a five-time NWSL Best XI First Team selection (2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2021).
🗣 “To play the back-to-back world champions in their final preparation game is a sign of respect for the players and they should take huge credit for that.”
— FA WALES (@FAWales) July 7, 2023