Wales Held At Home But Boss Rhian Wilkinson Insists They Are Still In Charge

LLANELLI, WALES - MAY 31: Kayleigh Barton of Wales scores a penalty during the UEFA Women's EURO 2025 Qualifier match between Wales and Ukraine at Parc y Scarlets on May 31, 2024 in Llanelli, Wales. (Photo by Athena Pictures/Getty Images)

Wales Held At Home But Boss Rhian Wilkinson Insists They Are Still In Charge

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By Graham Thomas

Wales manager Rhian Wilkinson insists her team are still in control of their Euro 2025 qualification group despite a frustrating 1-1 draw at home to Ukraine in Llanelli.

After back-to-back victories for Wilkinson in her first two matches in charge, this was a mis-step for the Canadian coach, although Wales’ position in the group is still a strong one.

Wales remain top of League B Group 4 with seven points from three matches, one point clear of Croatia.

They now face a trip to Poland to face the Ukranians again on Tuesday evening in a fixture that appears more difficult after this disappointing draw.

Wales conceded a poor early goal in only the third minute after a mistake by Rhiannon Roberts and struggled to take their chances to equalise before the break.

They eventually levelled through a 64th minute penalty by Kayleigh Barton, her 19th goal for her country.

The 36-year-old striker had come on as a half-time substitute and tucked away the spot kick after Ceri Holland’s shot was handled by Olha Basanska.

“I didn’t think we were particularly dangerous,” admitted Wilkinson.

“We did get the ball in certain areas, but I didn’t think we were super dangerous as much as we would like to be. But the response was strong.

“For the players, we talk about resilience, they talk about togetherness, they talk about family, and if that’s not being tested in these games, then we’re not ready for the play-offs.

“The group is still in our control, we’re still at the top, we can’t let games like this, where it feels like two points slipped away, cost us more than that because that’s what it was.”

Only two places separated the countries in the FIFA world rankings, with Wales placed at 32 and Ukraine 34.

Wales had started the Wilkinson era with 4-0 and 6-0 qualifying wins over Croatia and Kosovo last month and were seeking to build on that early momentum in the chase for a play-off place in the autumn.

Ukraine were second seeds behind the Dragons when the group was drawn but travelled to west Wales on the back of a surprise loss to Croatia.

The visitors profited from the opening attack, with Wales the architects of their own downfall to concede for the first time in five games.

Roberts, having received a return pass from goalkeeper Olivia Clark, passed it straight to Andrukhiv, who found an unguarded net from 20 yards with aplomb.

Wales responded positively with some smart link-up play that saw Ceri Holland release Jess Fishlock through on goal.

But Fishlock, scorer of 42 international goals, delayed her shot and Basanska blocked.

Holland was the next home player to break beyond the Ukraine defence. The Liverpool attacker shifted the ball neatly around keeper Daria Keliushyk but was unable to find a waiting red shirt in the middle.

Fishlock saw a rasping 20-yard effort tipped over by the athletic Keliushyk, but Ukraine were difficult to break down and Wales attempts began to dry up as the half developed.

Ukraine were relieved when Fishlock failed to keep down a high bouncing ball on the edge of the area before Roberts reacted well to deny Yana Kalinina.

Wilkinson shuffled her attacking cards at half-time, with Barton and Rachel Rowe sent on for Ffion Morgan and Mary McAteer.

It was a shrewd move as both substitutes were busy and Wales increased the tempo. But Wales were still let down by wayward final passes until literally being handed a lifeline by Ukraine.

Rowe’s determination down the right set up skipper Angharad James for a powerful shot that Keliushyk batted out.

The ball was recycled and Holland’s goalbound drive was pushed away by the diving Basanska. Barton confidently tucked away the penalty.

Wales pressed furiously in the final minutes, but Fishlock and Rowe could not convert chances and Ukraine were content to claim a point.

The two sides meet again on Tuesday, with war-torn Ukraine’s home qualifier being played in neighbouring Poland.

“I think I would be lying if I said it wasn’t a frustrating match, we are better than letting one mistake cost us two points,” added Wilkinson.

“I thought we lost our way in the first 45 minutes but I was proud with the way the team responded.

“We stuck with the process and the things we are trying to implement.

“Ukraine is a country who have been through it all. We were always going to have to earn everything we got and while we didn’t do that in the first-half, we did in the second.”

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