By Hannah Blackwell
Gemma Evans is already one of the best defenders in the WSL and will become an increasing influence for Wales, according to her manager Gemma Grainger.
The 26-year-old Reading player will reach the 50-cap landmark if she plays in two of three matches at the Pinatar Cup in Spain over the next week.
Wales meets the Philippines on Wednesday and Evans is in line to win cap number 49.
“It’s been fantastic to work with Gemma,” said Grainger.
“She’s a top player and one of the top defenders in the WSL. In the last campaign, I think we saw her at her best, especially in the games against France.
“From a leadership perspective, I’ve seen her grow over time. We’ve got many more years with Gemma and I only see her future getting brighter and her becoming a better player.”
Hannah Cain and Esther Morgan could return after long-term injuries, and Sheffield United goalkeeper Bethan Davies was named in the senior squad for the first time.
Centurions Jess Fishlock, Angharad James, Helen Ward and captain Sophie Ingle are all included in the squad in Spain.
“One of our biggest strengths is our diversity in terms of experience,” explained Grainger.
“One of the things we’re looking forward to his playing world opposition, and the Philippines will have a different philosophy and style of play to the European teams.
“It will be a great test for us. We want to make sure that we can build momentum as a team, and we will plan for the three games and make sure that the team continue to build on that momentum.
“We’re not going to be able to put the same starting line-up out in every game, and we will utilise the time during matches and training for us to get out of the competition what we need
Wales will play Iceland on Saturday, 18th February, and Scotland on Tuesday, 21st February, after their opening match against the Philippines.
The Philippines are the lowest ranked nation at the Pinatar Cup, in 53rd place, while Wales are currently 32nd in the rankings table, having reached the play-offs for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup last year.
Scotland are 25th in the rankings table, while Iceland are favourites, having qualified for the Euro finals last summer and are currently ranked 16th in the world.
Wales’ last international friendly was against Finland in November, with Carrie Jones scoring in the 1-1 draw.
“I’m excited about the squad that we’ve selected as we have a lot of our players available for selection which is always a great thing for us,” added Grainger “Three games in six days is a challenge, and in every position we want to make sure we utilise as many players as possible.
“We have a plan about how we want to do that. We’re in a transitional period, but right now we’re focused on this February camp.”
The 2023 Pinatar Cup will take place in the Spanish town of San Pedro del Pinatar, and Cymru manager Gemma Grainger and her squad are excited to return. The competition will feature only four countries this year, with Cymru facing the Philippines in the opening match on Wednesday, 15 February.
“The Pinatar Cup is a competition that we are familiar with and we had a great experience at the competition last year,” said Grainger. “I’m excited about the squad that we’ve selected as we have a lot of our players available for selection which is always a great thing for us.
Three games in six days is a challenge, and in every position we want to make sure we utilise as many players as possible. We have a plan about how we want to do that. We’re in a transitional period, but right now we’re focused on this February camp.”
Cymru finished fourth out of eight nations at the tournament last year, and this time, the tournament will play a key part in preparing for the inaugural UEFA Women’s Nations League, which starts in September. Grainger has named a strong 27-player squad, including defender Gemma Evans, who is set to make her 50th appearance for the country in Spain.