Gemma Grainger feels record attendance can fire Wales to World Cup play-offs

·3-min read

Head coach Gemma Grainger believes the record attendance for a Wales women’s international will energise her side’s bid to reach the 2023 World Cup play-offs.

Wales need a point from their final qualifier against Slovenia on Tuesday to reach next month’s play-offs.

Nearly 12,000 tickets have been sold – more than double the previous record of 5,455 that saw Wales beat Estonia 4-0 last October – and Grainger expects the Cardiff City Stadium crowd to inspire and intimidate in equal measure.

Poland v Wales – UEFA Nations League – Group A4 – Wroclaw Stadium
Wales boss Gemma Grainger believes a record crowd could make all the difference in their bid to reach the World Cup play-offs (Rafal Oleksiewicz/PA)

Grainger was at the same venue in June when Wales’ men’s team ended a 64-year wait to qualify for the World Cup by beating Ukraine.

“I want Slovenia to feel they are away from home,” said Grainger, whose side’s opening qualifier against Kazakhstan in Llanelli 12 months ago drew a crowd of just 1,745.

“I want them to walk in to our stadium and feel the same way as it is with the men’s national team.

“I know what it can do to our players and the feeling for the opposition is one of intimidation. I was there early (for the men’s World Cup play-off) and watched the Ukraine team come out.

“I watched them particularly during the anthem. It was loud and you could see them looking around the stadium.

“It was loud for our game against Estonia and the players felt it then. The fact the crowd will be over double that, I believe we can get that special atmosphere.”

Wales have never qualified for a major women’s tournament.

But Middlesbrough-born Grainger, who spent 11 years at the Football Association and was part of various successful age-grade qualifications there, believes this campaign marks the beginning for her adopted nation.

She said: “If we don’t qualify for the World Cup, this campaign is not a failure whatsoever.

“We are right on track for where we want to be as a team, in terms of a playing style and setting standards off the field.

“How we’ve respected the people that came before us and inspired the next generation, that’s what this team is about.

“It’s similar to the men’s team in that we’ve developed a clear identity.

“I understand about results on the pitch, we win on Friday and we know the ticket sales go up.

Wales v Denmark – Women’s International Friendly – Cardiff City Stadium
Wales’ most capped player Jess Fishlock faces a late fitness check after missing Friday’s win in Greece (David Davies/PA)

“But this is actually a lot bigger. We will qualify for a major tournament, it’s just a matter of when.”

Jess Fishlock, Wales’ most capped player, missed Friday’s 1-0 win in Greece through injury and is danger of missing out again.

Tottenham midfielder Angharad James is set to become the ninth Wales player to join the 100-cap club.

At 28, James will reach the landmark at a younger age than the other eight players – Fishlock, Loren Dykes, Sophie Ingle, Helen Ward, Natasha Harding, Chris Gunter, Gareth Bale and Wayne Hennessey.