CARDIFF, WALES - OCTOBER 26: Natasha Harding of Wales celebrates after scoring her team's third goal during the FIFA Women's World Cup 2023 Qualifier group I match between Wales and Estonia at Cardiff City Stadium on October 26, 2021 in Cardiff , United Kingdom. (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

Natasha Harding Spoke Of Her Pride On Reaching 100 Caps . . . But Is Determined To Surpass It By Playing At The World Cup For Wales

By Harry Corish

Wales continued their World Cup qualification push with a disciplined 3-0 win against a resolute Kazakhstan team. Natasha Harding made her 100th cap in Astana but remains focused on helping Wales in their pursuit to reach the World Cup.

While it was an emotional moment for the Wales veteran, Harding insisted that yesterday’s win was not about her, but rather about the three points it earned the team, and she is completely focused on qualification for the World Cup, after missing out in recent years.

Kayleigh Green, Natasha Harding and Jess Fishlock were all on the scoresheet for Wales yesterday. It was an impressive performance from the visitors, but they may be made to rue missed chances if goal difference becomes an issue towards the end of the campaign.

Slovenia however lost 1-0 to France, meaning that it is now in Wales’ own hands as to whether they qualify, as they are now two points ahead and will face Slovenia at home on the last matchday of their qualifying campaign.

Centurion Harding, who got on the score sheet just 22 minutes into her 100th cap, said after the game that she was feeling emotional at achieving such an honour for her country, but was also quick to discuss the importance of Wales backing up this performance in September.

“I’ll be honest with you, in September we have to get six points and that is what we expect,” Harding said.

“Hopefully we will be able to use the camp in June as a really good preparation to prepare for the upcoming qualifiers. There is confidence in this group and we know what we can do from within.”

Gemma Grainger, Wales manager, was pleased with the performance, which sets her team up for a crucial camp in September.

“What we do know is that we control everything, so that gives us great confidence. The final two games will be our focus and we will still take each game as it comes,” said Grainger.

“I am very excited; we want it to happen now. We have got some preparations in June, which will set us up nicely. For us it’s about doing the job. We are really looking forward to both of those games.”

There is now a four-month gap until these crucial qualifiers at home, with the first game of Wales’ campaign taking place on September 2nd. While the momentum from the past month may now be settling down, Grainger remains upbeat about what lies ahead:

“It’s helpful we have a big gap before these crucial games. We know how the international calendar works; we have prepared for this since the beginning of the campaign.

“A lot of the players will be coming towards the end of their season. Their rest and reenergising will be a big part of that and how we plan to perform in September.”

Harding has been playing for Wales for 14 years, and this achievement has been a long time coming.

“It’s the first time I’ve never been able to finish the anthem. I’ve been quite quiet today, which is hard to believe, for those that know me. I was quite emotional before the game.

“Playing for Wales means everything for me, it’s the pinnacle of everything I do. To get to 100 games is an incredible achievement.

“It probably won’t sink in until I’m home, putting the training shirt on at Reading. I think I showed every single emotion this evening.” Harding said.

Helen Ward and Natasha Harding both won their 100th caps this week, against France and Kazakhstan respectively. Grainger points out the importance of the senior players within the team and their impact within the camp:

“Whatever role they are given they execute it to the highest level. For us as a team, that experience and having those kinds of personalities around the group are only going to take us forward. They are role models.

“Players are looking at them and learning from them. That’s a key part in the team, we recognise everybody. One of the phrases we use is ‘leaders at every level’. And those two (Harding and Ward) lead whether they are on the pitch or off it.”

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