Angharad James believes Wales manager Jayne Ludlow can prove the difference between qualification success and failure in their Women’s Euro 2021 campaign.
The tournament qualifiers begin on Thursday evening with Wales in the Faroe Islands for their first match – almost a year to the day since their last competitive tournament fixture when a 3-0 home defeat to England ended Wales’ chances of going to the World Cup.
Since then, Wales have had to make do with friendly games in the long wait to resume their dreams of making their first tournament finals. They have only won once in those seven matches – a 1-0 victory over New Zealand in June – but the meaningful action starts now.
For James – who left Everton this summer to join Reading – the knowledge picked up by Ludlow during the last qualifying campaign, where Wales took England right to the wire, provides a major plus point.
“We’ve believed in her since she came through the door and now we’re at the point where we really do believe we can qualify,” says James.
“The most important thing is winning the next game, and Jayne will set us up in a way that means we can win. She will work for hours and hours to make sure that whatever happens in the game that we know what we’re doing.
“There’s pressure on us now for the first time, because we think we’re good enough to qualify.”
The Faroe Islands are the bottom seeds in Group C, but Wales have lost to the minnows once before, so will be taking nothing for granted.
They also begin this campaign in Torshavn without their most experienced and highest profile player in Jess Fishlock, who is out with a long-term knee injury.
Top seeds Norway, Belarus and Northern Ireland make up the five-team group, but Ludlow is purely concentrating on the job in hand and ensuring Wales don’t fall victim to another shock result.
“All our prep work is based on the Faroe Islands and getting three points from that,” says Ludow.
“We’ll see where we are later in the campaign. I actually made my first start for the Wales senior team against away to the Faroe Islands.
“The country is far more developed now and the team is far more developed, and we’re looking forward to going somewhere in the world where not many of our players have been to before.”
As they begin their campaign to reach the finals in England, Ludow’s team is likely to base their strategy on the superb defensive organisation which saw them concede just three goals in eight matches in their World Cup qualifiers.
Ludlow adds: “We have to step on the pitch and perform at our best for every 90 minutes that comes our way. And if we do? Then who knows?
“Nobody gives you a bye into those competitions. You have to do well in qualifying and you have to perform in every game. The reality is in the past we haven’t done that.”
Wales could hand a debut to 15-year old Carrie Jones, who is not yet eligible to play for her club Cardiff City, although she is most likely to feature among the substitutes.
“I see her challenging for a place. If she wasn’t going to do that she wouldn’t be selected,” adds Ludlow.
“The reality of the youngster we’re talking about is that she’s performing very well in the domestic programme and we have high hopes for her in the future. It’s very early days in her senior career, club and country, and it’s a learning process.”