Gemma Grainger Wales

HENSOL, WALES - SEPTEMBER 18: Gemma Grainger during the Wales Training Session at The Vale Resort on September 18, 2023 in Hensol, Wales. (Photo by Athena Pictures/Getty Images)

Gemma Grainger Insists Wales’ Bid For Finals Glory Starts In Iceland

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By Hannah Blackwell

Wales manager Gemma Grainger believes the journey to qualification for a major tournament starts on Friday night in Iceland.

The fixture may be their opener in the UEFA Women’s Nations League – rather than World Cup or European Championship – but Grainger insists the route this tournament offers as a back-up for Euros qualification is invaluable.

“Success in the Nations League is us performing and competing,” says Grainger.

“We’re the fourth seeded team in the group so I’m sure externally if we finish fourth we’ll meet everyone’s external expectations, but internally they are very much not our expectations.

“Our expectations are to perform and, ultimately, we want to qualify for the European Championships so being in League A gives us the best opportunity to do that.

“The 16 teams in League A is effectively a 16-team start to a European Championship, so to be in that we’ll use these games to help us progress towards the ultimate goal.

“Iceland have a very clear style of play and the game we had against them in Pinatar was very competitive.

“We always want to play as much as we can against the higher-ranked teams, so to begin the Nations League in League A is exactly where we want to be.

“We’ve both played different opposition since our last game in February, so I think this game will be very different. The way we prepare for this game will be exactly how we prepared in February.

“Whether we’re playing in Pinatar in February, the USA in July or now in the Nations League our preparation is exactly the same.”

Wales will start their campaign in Reykjavík as the underdogs in a group – A3 – that also includes Denmark and Germany.

Grainger’s side, ranked 29th in the world, are the fourth seed in the group with third seed Iceland ranked 15 places above Wales.

Iceland, who have qualified for the last four Euros and held Belgium, Italy and France to draws in the 2022 finals, are not to be taken lightly.

Had the Netherlands not scored in added time of their last World Cup qualifier in Utrecht, Iceland would have secured a debut place in the global finals rather than having to go into the play-offs, where they fell to Portugal after extra time.

Wales lost in extra time in the World Cup play-offs, conceding a last-gasp goal against Switzerland as penalties loomed in Zürich.

That was the closest Wales have come to a major tournament, but their presence in League A is proof of their rapid rise up the ranks in recent years.

The four group winners in League A will meet in the Nations League semi-finals, with the two finalists joining hosts France as the European representatives in the 2024 Olympic Games.

The top two teams in each group remain in League A for the European Qualifiers for the UEFA Women’s Euro 2025.

The four third-placed teams take on the second-placed teams in League B. The winners of each match play in League A for the European Qualifiers phase; the defeated teams will play in League B.

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