More Welsh glory as Gemma’s Girls reach World Cup Play-Offs.


Gemma Grainger’s gallant Welsh side had to dig deep into their reserves at the Cardiff City Stadium but held out to record another historic night for Welsh football.

Wales had never reached the final stages of a major tournament before but, thanks to that great 1-0 away victory over Greece last week, Grainger’s side entered the tie against Slovenia requiring just a single point from this final qualifier to reach next month’s play-offs

Such is the interest in the national side these days that the game was held at the Cardiff City Stadium, where Gareth Bale and the boys had themselves clinched World Cup qualification against Ukraine earlier this year.

Chelsea’s Sophie Ingle captained the home side whilst the scorer of that all important goal against Greece, Carrie Jones of Leicester City also started.

Angharad James from Pembrokeshire started in midfield to win her 100th cap for Wales, the youngest ever centurion for Wales at only 28 years of age and Eintracht Frankfurt’s Lara Prašnikar led the attack for Jarc Borut’s dangerous side.

Swirling rain did little to dampen the spirits of a record breaking crowd of 12,74. The attendance dwarfed the previous record for a Welsh Women’s international of 5,455 set when Wales beat Estonia 4-0 in October. The “Red Wall” of Wales fans delivered renditions of all their terrace anthems as the game enjoyed a “big match” atmosphere.

With the visitors also assured of a play-off spot if they could overcome their hosts, the opening exchanges were lively as neither side seemed ready to sit back.

Slovenian captain Mateja Zver warmed the hands of Laura O’Sullivan after 10 minutes as the hosts faced a spell of pressure. The save brought enthusiastic cheers from the home fans behind the amateur goalie’s net.

Slovenia continued to show their intent but Rachel Rowe led the way with some spirited defence for the home side. Brighton’s Kayleigh Green and Tash Harding of Aston Villa chased everything up front.

The dangerous Zver almost opened the scoring after half an hour but her effort whizzed narrowly over the woodwork with O’Sullivan beaten.

Wales responded with a cross from Green which skipper Sophie Ingle could only push wide of the post with a delicate touch.

The large crowd were enjoying a robust encounter. The visitors attacked with verve and the hosts also enjoyed their share of the spoils.

As we neared the interval Green narrowly failed to connect with a searching cross from Rhiannon Roberts. The massed ranks of home fans responded with a lusty rendition of the Welsh hymn Calon Lân as the game continued to excite.

Visiting No 1 Zala Meršnik had been the quieter of the two goalkeepers and a tame shot from James failed to unsettle her as the second 45 began.

Green looked the liveliest of the Welsh strikers but the teen titan Jones was also active, firing over with venom on 52 minutes.

With so much at stake, this toe-to-toe battle was becoming something of a stalemate as the combatants fought themselves to a standstill. The hard working Green looked to be clear around the hour mark but fluffed her lines somewhat, slipping on the damp Cardiff surface.

Jones brought a fine save from Meršnik on 69 minutes. From the resulting corner the visiting keeper was further tested as she forced away Gemma Evans’ firm header – her feet looking to be behind the line to this writer.

Yellow cards began to litter the game now as neither side conceded an inch. Green and Sara Agrež were cautioned during an unsporting exchange on 75 minutes. Hayley Ladd also soon saw yellow for Gemma Grainger’s team.

The record crowd did their best to roar the Welsh home but that golden chance just would not come. Ingle led her troops with determination as the game entered the closing minutes.

Green chased and chased. Bodies tumbled all around the wet pitch as Grainger prowled the line like a lioness on a hunt.

O’Sullivan dashed out to thwart Prašnikar  with barely a minute on the clock. The exhausted Green hobbled her way off as Grainger made a late switch.

With only five minutes of added time to endure, Jones felt it was time to take the ball into the corner. The Welsh were out on their feet but in no mood to yield. The crowd knew it and roared their support.

Rhiannon Roberts battled her way forward in extraordinary fashion to force a throw-in deep in Slovenian territory.

The final whistle brought gleeful scenes around the stadium.  Many of the Welsh team sank to the deck in exhaustion before the emotion and adrenalin kicked in to inspire gleeful celebrations.

Wales still face a few hurdles if they are to reach the finals in Australia/New Zealand 2023 but nobody in the stadium was giving too much thought to those complicated arrangements. This was a night for celebration again in the Welsh capital.

Rarely has a nil-nil draw in the Welsh woman’s game been such an occasion.

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