Wales women in the World Cup play-offs for the first time
Wales booked their place in the World Cup play-offs with a goalless draw at home to Slovenia.
On a tense night in Cardiff, Wales – who have never qualified for a major women’s tournament – knew that a point would seal their spot among the hopefuls next month.
Just 1,745 fans had witnessed the start of Wales’ World Cup campaign against Kazakhstan in Llanelli nearly a year ago.
But expectations have risen in 12 months and a record home crowd of 12,741 – more than double the previous best of 5,445 – were present to see whether Gemma Grainger’s side could move closer to next summer’s World Cup finals in Australia and New Zealand.
Wales did so, despite not being at their best, owing much to a compact defence that kept third-placed Slovenia below them in Group I.
Tottenham midfielder Angharad James won her 100th cap, at 28 years of age the youngest of the nine Wales male and female players to do so.
But Jess Fishlock, Wales’ most capped player, was on the bench again after missing Friday’s 1-0 win in Greece through injury.
Wales started nervously as if they were only too aware of the magnitude of the game.
Rachel Rowe’s mistake allowed Mateja Zver to advance on the home goal and shoot straight at Laura O’Sullivan.
Zver was a creative force during the early stages, and the Slovenia captain played a clever one-two with Lara Prasnikar before flashing a drive just over the crossbar.
Wales slowly settled and a sweeping move saw Sophie Ingle release Carrie Jones for a shot that was safely collected by Zala Mersnik in the visitors’ goal.
Green then set up Ingle from 12 yards, but the Wales captain sent her volley just wide of Mersnik’s upright.
Jones was off-target with another attempt and Wales continued to have the edge after the break.
James fired straight at Mersnik and Wales were left to rue the absence of VAR after 51 minutes.
Dominika Conc slid into the back of Jones, who was just inside the penalty area, but Ukrainian referee Kateryna Monzul waved play on.
Mersnik made saves from Jones, Wales’ most dangerous player, and Gemma Evans, whose free header from five yards out was straight at the Slovenia goalkeeper and batted away.
Zver gave the hosts a scare by curling wide from 18 yards, but in the end the celebrations belonged to Wales and the hope of emulating their men’s side by appearing at a World Cup.
GÊMAU AIL GYFLE 🏴
Cymru secure a @FIFAWWC play-off spot for the first time! 🙌#BeFootball | #TogetherStronger pic.twitter.com/fJ0J6dhw76
— Wales 🏴 (@Cymru) September 6, 2022
Speaking to the BBC after the match, Wales manager Gemma Grainger said she “couldn’t be prouder of the players”.
“The players need to take all the credit. The 12,000 supporters here tonight were behind us and we fed off that.
“Now we want even more. We know we have game 11 and game 12 so all the preparation goes into those.
“I think as a team we have an identity, we knew out of possession we are strong, you saw that tonight.
“Jayne [Ludlow] left some great foundations, for us we wanted to build on that, now we’re better out of possession and we also have some players who are great with possession.
“We’ll work hard, plan hard, to make sure they are all as successful as they can be.”
More: Watch: The brilliant scenes as Wales reach first ever World Cup playoffs
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