Challenges ahead as Euro 2021 qualifying begins

WALES

With a strong World Cup qualification campaign behind them, there is plenty of excitement around the Welsh national side as they look to qualify for their first major tournament. The launch of their #BeFootball campaign just under a fortnight ago set the tone, as the Welsh FA look to continue their growth through challenging perceptions, inspiring confidence and challenging girls to be their best selves.

Jayne Ludlow has managed to retain the core group of her players that have progressed them this far, despite losing the integral Jess Fishlock to an ACL injury. Rachel Rowe is also out as she continues her recovery from a long spell on the side-lines. However, there is plenty of experience blended with youth in this squad. The stalwarts of Sophie Ingle, Hayley Ladd, Loren Dykes, Natasha Harding and Angharad James are joined by Everton’s Elise Hughes and Carrie Jones. Jones is just 15 and with her first call up to the senior squad, she could make her international debut before being able to start for Cardiff City (she has to turn 16 first).

Wales are the queens of 1-0 results and their challenge will be to try and add more goals to their compact defensive play. Group C poses some tough challenges ahead. Their first two games feature a trip to the Faroe Islands – a totally different environment with some topsy-turvy weather – before returning home to a Home Nations derby against Northern Ireland. They will be expected to win both fixtures to get their campaign off to the perfect start.

Thursday 29th August
Faroe Islands v Wales
Tórsvøllur, Torshavn
17:00 BST
Live on BBC Wales

Tuesday 3rd September
Wales v Northern Ireland
Rodney Parade, Newport
19:05 BST
Live on BBC Wales

Wales National Team

NORTHERN IRELAND

Kenny Shiels takes charge of Northern Ireland for the first time, having replaced Alfie Wylie in May. He brings over 25 years of coaching experience to the role as he looks to take his side up another level.

There are plenty of familiar faces in his first squad that includes Reading’s Rachel Furness; Crystal Palace captain, Freya Holdaway; and Everton forward, Simone Magill. Nat Johnson from Leicester could make her first competitive international start while Rebecca Holloway, Claragh Connor and Yasmin White all join the senior outfit.

Northern Ireland struggled in a tough World Cup qualifying group. This one won’t be much easier as they join Wales in Group C. Their first opponent comes in the form of World Cup quarter-finalists Norway, a team they faced in their last campaign. They then travel to Newport to face close rivals Wales in a game that they will target for a result.

Friday 30th August
Northern Ireland v Norway
Seaview, Belfast
19:30 BST

Tuesday 3rd September
Wales v Northern Ireland
Rodney Parade, Newport
19:05 BST
Live on BBC Wales

SCOTLAND

After their summer adventures in France, Scotland return to Edinburgh to begin their next challenge, qualifying for Euro 2021. They make up Group C alongside Cyprus, Albania, Finland and Portugal and, while there are some stern tests ahead, have to be one of the favourites to win their group.

The biggest challenge this camp will be how they can handle the fall-out from the World Cup. Shelley Kerr has held well-documented clear the air talks with her squad after an incident that left several of them considering their international futures.

Kerr has, however, retained much of the squad that went to France as they look to move up a gear. Christie Murray and Lana Clelland are both out injured and there have been call ups for Rachel McLauchlan, Lucy Graham, Sam Kerr, Abbi Grant, Abi Harrison and Zoe Ness to inject something new into the squad. Lucy Graham is a particular talent who can really shine over the next 12 months.

There is only one game for them this window as they face Cyprus. This is the first competitive meeting between the two sides and the hosts will be expected to lay down their marker for the campaign ahead.

Friday 30th August
Scotland v Cyprus
Easter Road, Edinburgh
19:35 BST
Live on BBC Alba

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND

After a quick trip to America, Tom O’Connor remains caretake manager as the FAI seek a permanent replacement for Colin Bell. Despite the loss to the World Champions, Ireland will see the game as valuable experience as they attempt to qualify for Euro 2021.

This squad sees two long-term absentees return to the fold. Clare Shine and Stephanie Roche both join up with the side for the first time since 2017. There is also a spot for Manchester City’s new signing, 18-year old Tyler Toland while up front, in-form goalscorer, Rianna Jarrett, features.

The Republic of Ireland make up Group I alongside Germany, Greece, Montenegro and Ukraine. They start out at home to Montenegro on Tuesday night in a game that they will feel they should win to kick-start the challenge ahead.

Tuesday 3rd September
Republic of Ireland v Montenegro
Tallaght Stadium, Dublin
19:35 BST
Live on RTE 2

Lionesses v Norway

© Kunjan Malde

ENGLAND

Phil Neville’s England side face a spell with no competitive football as they wait to see who will join them in the European Championships. As a result, they will have to test themselves over the coming months with some challenging friendlies as they look to build and improve towards the Olympics and beyond.

With new challenges come new faces. Aoife Mannion, Bethany England, Anna Patten and Sandy MacIver could all make their senior debuts this camp as they enter the fold. Many will feel that the addition of Mannion in particular is long overdue, with her having excelled at Birmingham City over the years.

There are some injury problems to work around as Ellen White and Karen Bardsley are out for a few months. Fran Kirby and Alex Greenwood have also had to withdraw from this camp while Jill Scott has been given some extra rest ahead of a big season.

The Lionesses travel to Belgium first for a friendly on Thursday night. While not featuring at the World Cup in June (they came close), they present plenty of threat especially through the likes of Manchester City’s Tessa Wullaert. England will then head to Bergen for their second fixture of this window to face Norway. They may have got the better of their quarter-final opponents in Le Havre but the Norwegians will be gunning for a slice of revenge. Possessing the quality of Maren Mjelde, Maria Thorisdottir and Caroline Graham Hansen, Neville’s side will have to be at their very best to repeat the feat.

Thursday 29th August
Belgium v England
Den Dreef, LEuven
18:30 BST
Live on BBC Two

Tuesday 3rd September
Norway v England
Brann Stadion, Bergen
17:00 BST
Live on BBC Two

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