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Rhian Wilkinson celebrates opening game win as Wales ease past Croatia

05 Apr 2024 3 minute read
Wales’ Rachel Rowe (centre right) celebrates with team mate Angharad James (left) after scoring their side’s third goal of the game during the UEFA Women’s Euro 2025 qualifying round League B, Group B4 match at the SToK Cae Ras, Wrexham. Credit: Nick Potts/PA Wire

Phil Blanche, PA

Wales marked Rhian Wilkinson’s first game in charge by opening their Euro 2025 qualifying campaign in style against Croatia.

Jess Fishlock bagged a brace to move within two of Helen Ward’s record 44-goal tally before Rachel Rowe and Angharad James added gloss to a comfortable 4-0 victory.

Wales had not played at Wrexham’s Stok Racecourse since March 2020 and new boss Wilkinson, the former Canada defender and England and Team GB assistant coach, was determined to make a winning start.

Wilkinson had not hesitated in outlining her ambition after succeeding Gemma Grainger following her shock departure to manage Norway – leading Wales to a first major tournament.

Wales manager Rhian Wilkinson during the UEFA Women’s Euro 2025 qualifying round League B, Group B4 match at the SToK Cae Ras, Wrexham. Credit: Nick Potts/PA Wire

Rowe went close from 20 yards before Wales made the perfect start after four minutes.

The Rangers livewire drove towards the penalty area and slipped in Fishlock, who punished untidy defending with a cool sidefoot finish.

It was Fishlock’s 41st Wales goal and drew her level with Gareth Bale’s international tally – but the 37-year-old would move beyond that mark four minutes into the second period.

Rowe was Wales’ most dangerous player with her sniping runs constantly troubling Croatia’s packed defence.

With the visitors showing little – if any – attacking intent, Wales completely dominated opponents 27 places below them in the FIFA rankings.

Croatia captain Doris Bacic fielded a Fishlock shot straight at her and reacted well to smother Elise Hughes’ effort with her legs.

Hughes headed Hayley Ladd’s cross over at the far post, but Wales were out of sight within 11 minutes of the restart following a quickfire treble.

Fishlock grabbed her second after controlling Gemma Evans’ pass on her chest and lifting the ball over Bacic.

The ball eluded two backtracking defenders and came back off the crossbar for the alert Fishlock to nod home.

Rowe slotted the ball home two minutes later after James won possession and Fishlock had set her up with an intelligent square pass.

Evans claimed a second assist with another pinpoint diagonal pass as James slid in to score from a difficult angle.

Ceri Holland almost provided a spectacular conclusion by striking the frame of the goal from 25 yards and fellow substitutes Lois Joel and Mary McAteer were denied by Bacic.

Wales’ next qualifier on Tuesday is away to Kosovo, who were beaten 2-0 by Ukraine in their opening tie on Friday.

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