Women’s World Cup: Wales reach play-offs for first time in 0-0 draw with Slovenia

Ceri Holland tries to control the ball
Wales boss Gemma Grainger took charge of Wales ahead of the start of their World Cup qualifying campaign.

Wales held firm to reach the World Cup play-offs for the first time thanks to a 0-0 draw on a nerve-shredding night in the Welsh capital.

Teenager Carrie Jones came closest for Wales with several fine efforts, while home goalkeeper Laura O’Sullivan had to be alert to deny Mateja Zver.

Wales knew a point was enough to see them finish second and they kept their defensive discipline throughout.

They might even have won it, but Gemma Evans’ header was superbly saved.

This was a night on which Wales knew they had history in their grasp, having never before been within a point of qualifying for the play-offs.

It was already a celebratory night in the Welsh capital with the crowd of 12,741 more than doubling Wales’ record attendance of 5,445.

Perhaps even more significantly, Wales’ first home game of the campaign was watched by just 1,700 supporters, with the atmosphere – enhanced by Wales’ fans’ brass band – as loud as it has been for a Wales women’s match.

Wales boss Gemma Grainger opted to field the same side that won in Greece on Friday, albeit in a less than convincing manner than some of their previous performances in the campaign.

That meant their most-capped player, Jess Fishlock, who picked up an injury on camp, was left on the bench in a ‘break glass in case of emergency’ scenario, as talented teen Jones kept her place following her goal in Volos.

The unchanged line-up meant all 10 of Wales’ outfield players were Women’s Super League players, a blessing and a curse considering the top flight does not get under way until the weekend.

Wales’ players looked in pre-season mode in Greece, lacking the fluency they have shown throughout this campaign and that continued to be the case in an extremely tense first-half at the Cardiff City Stadium.

Indeed, the visitors created more opportunities with captain Zver extremely influential as she gave defender Rhiannon Roberts a tough test on the night she celebrated her 50th Wales appearance.

It was Zver who had the first effort on goal after an uncharacteristic mistake from Rachel Rowe, but the Slovenian shot straight at O’Sullivan in the Wales goal after a driving run.

Wales’ first effort came on 24 minutes when Jones found some space on the left, but Zala Mersnik saved as she cut inside.

Zver again gave Wales a worry on 27 minutes when her fiercely struck shot hit the roof of the netting, before Lara Prasnikar lashed over the crossbar when more composure was required.

Slovenia simply had to keep on pressing and that opened spaces for Wales, with Ceri Holland stabbing wide after Kayleigh’s Green cross.

Green then came close to giving Wales the goal they craved, but her outstretched foot just failed to make contact with Jones’ volley back across goal after Roberts’ cross.

Wales began the second period with more purpose and Angharad James tested Marsnik as she sought to celebrate her 100th cap with a goal, before she turned provider, but Jones fired over from distance.

Jones was the fulcrum for Wales and felt aggrieved not to be awarded a penalty when Dominika Conc seemed to foul her right on the edge of the penalty area, before she tested Mersnik with a dipping, swerving effort that the Slovenia keeper did well to tip around the post.

However, at the other end the threat never went away for Wales with the scores deadlocked and O’Sullivan saved when Kaja Korosec struck from distance.

O’Sullivan could do nothing, however, other than hope, when Zver curled the ball just wide on 73 minutes.

This was a special night for Wales, but particular plaudits should go to O’Sullivan, the only amateur player in Wales’ starting XI, who conceded only five goals in 10 qualifiers and saved her best two performances for clean sheets in Wales’ final qualifiers .

A huge change for Wales to lift the tension came and went on 70 minutes when Gemma Evans rose unmarked from James’ corner, but Mersnik showed incredible reflexes to repel her header.

However, Wales held firm and will now look forward to the play-offs with their World Cup dream still very much alive.

Lineups

Wales

Formation 4-3-3

  • 1O’Sullivan
  • 5Roberts
  • 14LaddBooked at 77mins
  • 3Evans
  • 13Rowe
  • 8James
  • 4Ingle
  • 18Holland
  • 11hardening
  • 9greenBooked at 75minsSubstituted forMorganat 89′minutes
  • 20Jones

substitutes

  • 2Woodham
  • 6green
  • 7Ward
  • 10fish lock
  • 12Clark
  • 15Hughes
  • 16Estcourt
  • 17Walters
  • 19Wynne
  • 21Middleton-Patel
  • 22Filbey
  • 23Morgan

Slovenia

Formation 4-2-3-1

  • 1Mersnik
  • 16Erzen
  • 2golob
  • 3agrezBooked at 75mins
  • 7ermanSubstituted forKrizajat 79′minutes
  • 10Conc
  • 6korosec
  • 14KolbliBooked at 51minsSubstituted forMiloviceat 68′minutes
  • 18RoganSubstituted forKustrinat 68′minutes
  • 8Zver
  • 11Prasnikar

substitutes

  • 4Gradisek
  • 5Rozmaric
  • 9Klopcic
  • 12galjot
  • 13Kustrin
  • 15Makovec
  • 17Krizaj
  • 19Milovice
  • 20Babnik
  • 21Vindisar
  • 22Nemet

Referee:
Kateryna Monzul

Attendance:
12,741

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