Wales confident Fishlock will lead charge in bid for the World Cup

LEADER: Wales hope Jess Fishlock will be back for their bid to qualify for the World Cup
LEADER: Wales hope Jess Fishlock will be back for their bid to qualify for the World Cup

Wales are confident Jess Fishlock will be fit for World Cup play-off action after missing the final qualifying double-header earlier this month.

Fishlock, Wales' most-capped footballer with 134 appearances, has been named in a 26-strong squad for the first of three potential play-off ties against Bosnia and Herzegovina in Cardiff on October 6.

The 35-year-old midfielder has played just over half an hour for her American club OL Reign since missing Wales' concluding group games against Greece and Slovenia through injury.

Wales manager Gemma Grainger said: "From the moment she left us we contacted the club to make sure Jess was put in the centre of everything.

"These two weeks we want to look after her, as we did the last camp, to make sure she was in the middle of all our decisions.

"She's had a fantastic time at her club since as they've secured a play-off spot.

"Jess has got a game this weekend, and then she'll be jumping on that flight, and we'll be looking forward to seeing her."

Fishlock's creativity was missed as Wales drew 0-0 with Slovenia in Cardiff to secure a World Cup play-off place.

But Grainger insisted it was the right decision to omit Fishlock from such a huge occasion, saying: "The important thing for us as a team is making the right decisions, and we won't put our players at risk.

"The most important thing was what was right for Jess, for Wales, and for the club itself.

"Being at the stage she is in her career, we have to take care of her because her playing as long as she can is our number one priority."

Veteran Aston Villa forward Natasha Harding is unavailable for personal reasons and replaced in the squad by Bristol City's Chloe Bull.

The 103-times capped Harding has a senior leadership role within the group, but Grainger is confident the void created by her absence can be filled.

She said: "We have many players who have leadership qualities, on and off the pitch.

"Tash is one of them, but through this campaign we've had different players at different times.

"It gives us great confidence in our preparations, knowing the strength in the team. We're in a really good position."

Wales are favourites to progress to a second play-off round away to Switzerland on October 11.

The two best-ranked play-off final winners will secure places at the 2023 World Cup, with the other victorious side going into inter-continental play-offs.

Wales are likely to be in the inter-continental play-offs in February should they beat Bosnia and Herzegovina and Switzerland.

Over 9,000 tickets have already been sold for the Bosnia and Herzegovina tie at the Cardiff City Stadium.

It has put Wales on track to beat their record attendance for a women's home game, eclipsing the 12,741 crowd that saw the Slovenia draw on September 6.

Wales: Laura O'sullivan (Cardiff City Ladies), Olivia Clark (Bristol City), Safia Middleton-Patel (Manchester United), Rhiannon Roberts (Liverpool), Josie Green (Leicester City), Hayley Ladd (Manchester United), Gemma Evans (Reading), Rachel Rowe (Reading), Lily Woodham (Reading), Sophie Ingle (Chelsea), Anna Filbey (Crystal Palace), Angharad James (Tottenham Hotspur), Georgia Walters (Sheffield United), Charlie Estcourt (Birmingham City), Jess Fishlock (OL Reign), Carrie Jones (Leicester City - on loan from Manchester United), Ffion Morgan (Bristol City), Megan Wynne (Southampton), Elise Hughes (Crystal Palace), Kayleigh Green (Brighton & Hove Albion), Helen Ward (Watford), Ceri Holland (Liverpool), Maria Francis-Jones (Sheffield United – on loan from Manchester City), Chloe Williams (Blackburn Rovers – on loan from Manchester United), Morgan Rogers (Watford), Chloe Bull (Bristol City).