Jayne Ludlow takes Welsh women’s football into a new era in Italy tomorrow night – even though most of the faces are familiar.
The Wales manager might have been preparing to take her team to the World Cup finals this summer if last year’s qualification campaign had turned out differently.
Instead, a near miss meant Wales missed out and so the Tuesday night friendly in Cesena is preparation for the next series of European qualifiers this autumn rather than a place in the sun in France.
At least Ludlow is not starting from a clean slate as the anticipated raft of retirements among her squad did not happen.
Instead, after a series of discussions and a period of reflection, the likes of Jess Fishlock, Natasha Harding, Helen Ward and Sophie Ingle have all vowed to continue.
“The last campaign was very draining, emotionally, and then there is the come down period,” admitted Ludlow.
“For some, they believed at the time that it was their last opportunity to get to a finals. I didn’t believe that, but I do think they will now be hungry not to waste this next opportunity.
“Everything we have done has an effect on this generation and the next one, too. That means everyone who now steps on the pitch for us again has a massive responsibility to help grow the game.”
Unlike Wales, Italy did make it to the finals of the World Cup and they are a team that have made big strides up the rankings under manager Milena Bertolini.
“The manager there is doing a fantastic job,” Ludlow added.
“They’ve been competitive against some of the top teams in the world, so for us to go there and compete, to stand up and be counted, is a challenge for us.
“They are going through a process, they want to play different types of opponents that will give them a certain type of test, and maybe we will give them something they haven’t come up against recently.”
The last time the two sides met was in March 2018 in the Cyprus Cup when Wales lost 3-0.
Birmingham City Ladies defender Hayley Ladd is set to win her 50th cap, whilst Fishlock and Loren Dykes are back after being rested for the two games against Portugal last November which ended in a 1-0 defeat and a draw.
Brighton striker Kayleigh Green is suspended so Cardiff City Ladies trio Cori Williams, Emma Jones and Grace Harrell are among the uncapped players included along with Anna Filbey of Tottenham.