Impetus was represented at Wales’ media conference prior to departure to France for Tuesday’s World Cup Qualifier by Jean-Pierre Thiesset. He and Ben Gilby summarise the views of head coach Gemma Grainger and Chelsea’s Sophie Ingle ahead of their trip over the Channel.
Above: Wales head coach Gemma Grainger pictured in her media conference before the game against France. Photo: FA of Wales.
Wales go into their game against France in Guingamp tomorrow on the back of a 5-0 win over Greece, something which pleased head coach Gemma Grainger, along with no injuries or suspension being picked up in the game.
“Friday was a great opportunity for us to keep building on what we needed to. Conditions were tough, but we adapted well and the girls were brilliant in terms of their approach to the game, how they delivered the game and how they got stronger throughout the game. They are the things that made me happiest from the game and it sets us up well for Tuesday.”
Grainger was questioned about her approach to the game in France, with the home side being red hot favourites to take the three points.
“Look, the way we are viewing it is that we are the underdogs, there are no expectations on us outside of the camp. It’s a French game in France and the expectations may be pretty low. But our expectations are very high in terms of the performance that we want to put on. It’s a real opportunity for us to see where we are as a team and to go out there and continue the form that we have had. Why would we change that going to France? Its a real positive. For me personally, we will know a lot about ourselves as a result of the game.”
The Welsh head coach also sees the game as another step in her bid to give her team the toughest possible opposition as often as possible, after they took Canada who would go on to win Olympic Gold just under four months after their friendly with the Welsh.
“A combination of games against top opposition and the World Cup campaign is something we need to bring together. For me as a coach, these are the types of games that I want to coach in. These are the games that you really get to see the progress that you are making. We know why this game is going to be different, they are a highly ranked opposition and one of the best teams in the world. We have a lot of respect for them, but it’s a chance for us to go there and see where we are.”
With the Welsh side under Grainger noted for their attacking philosophy, the coach was asked if she would keep that mentality against the French who are renowned for multiple attacking threats.
“We’re really well prepared, we know what they do and what they are strong at. We’ve also got a few ideas about how we can bring our strengths to the game. We have to leave that pitch on Tuesday night knowing that we’ve delivered the game plan and delivering the game plan for us comes in terms of what we do both in and out of possession. We’ll have some targets set and we’ll make sure during the game that we are delivering on that. That will be the key measure of success after the game.”
With Grainger now just over eight months into her role as head coach with Wales, she spoke about how she thinks her side has progressed in that period.
“It’s a balance. We’ve played a lot of friendly games against higher-ranked opposition and we learned what we needed to learn from those games. More recently, we’ve been playing against lower-ranked opposition in the World Cup qualifying campaign and we’ve learned a lot about ourselves from them. We’ll only know where we are at after the game on Tuesday.
“We are playing France, but for us, this is game six of ten (in the qualifying campaign). It’s about how we execute. We’ll use the underdog mentality to go out there and be brave. At the end of the game we will know the answer to the question about where we are as a team.”
So far in the qualifying campaign, France are averaging seven goals a game and Grainger was asked what she plans on doing to ensure Wales don’t go the same way on Tuesday.
“The first thing is I want to bring their average down! The foundations in this team are all about how defensively sound we are. We’ve built on that strength and the players have absolute clarity on what they need to deliver. We work hard together and that is something we can control. We have to defend well in all areas, but we will make sure we are fully prepared to deliver a game plan.
“France are a brilliant team and they are clearly on a mission. Yet, we will be the highest-ranked team that they have played so far. They will want to compete and play well. We have worked at bringing out the best in the players we have. They have incredible resilience and work ethic and we have created an environment that brings that out further. We are competitive and we want to qualify for major tournaments. Whatever game we are in, those characteristics need to come out and do so.”
So far in the group, Slovenia gave France their sternest test, going down to just a 3-2 defeat. Grainger was asked what she took out of their performance in a bid to emulate or go further on the Slovenes’ result against the French.
“We’ve watched that game and having played Slovenia ourselves (a 1-1 draw away from home), we can also put their performance into context. There is a big difference between playing home and away and France played them in Slovenia. Having been there ourselves in October, we know how hard it is to go there. You also don’t know what was going on with France at that time as well.”
France go into the game without Wendie Renard, Amandine Henry, and Eugenie Le Sommer, who have been key components of their national side for many years, but Grainger does not think this makes Wales’ task any easier.
“Obviously I’d rather play France without those players, but I’ve coached against France before and seen their U17 players coming through and then at U19s. Although they are in a transition, they are in a very strong transition with strength in depth. The players coming in have very similar qualities whether they’ve learned them from around the national or club scene.”
Sophie Ingle also spoke to the media at the same event and began by highlighting her thoughts on the win over Greece on Friday, a game in which she scored her country’s opening goal after just seven minutes.
“It was positive, keeping a clean sheet was good. I still think that we could have pressed a bit better, obviously, we always want the perfect game, but we got in and around Greece. When we lost the ball, we reacted well. There were three or four of us around them. They still managed to get out a few times, but luckily they didn’t really cause us too many problems. An early goal against a team like Greece makes it a little bit easier, and to score two or three more in the first half also helps.”
Ingle was asked about her new role in the side which sees her linking up with Angharad James and Jess Fishlock in the midfield.
“It just comes natural to us. We were actually all laughing about it the other day as we don’t do much talking between us on the pitch because we don’t have to as we know where each other are just from checking over our shoulders. I know that if Jess wants to come low, I’ll get out of the space and that doesn’t always come natural with players. There usually is a lot of communication, but it just seems to flow nicely for the three of us.”
Looking ahead to Tuesday’s match in Guingamp against France, the Chelsea midfielder said: “It’s going to be a very different match. They will have a very big crowd as well. We know what sort of team they are and the strengths they have. So it’s all about us and trying to get at their weaknesses. We have to play with a bit of freedom, we have nothing to lose. We’re unbeaten too in qualifying at this stage too, so we’re happy about where we are as a team. It is about showing who we are and going away from home to play France is perfect for that.”
Wales can point to holding England to a draw in Southampton and very positive performances away to Norway when it comes to facing top European opposition, so is everyone right to be writing off Welsh chances in France so quickly?
“We want to build on those games and results we’ve had when we’ve played top opposition,” said Ingle, “It’s all about us believing in what we are doing right now as a team and show who Wales are. We don’t want to turn up to France on Tuesday and not give a good account of ourselves as the Welsh national team and that is what we have been speaking about since the Greece game finished the other night.”
With Wales now about to go past the halfway mark in this qualification campaign, Ingle assessed how the team has performed so far.
“The last three camps (September, October and November) have been so close together that it feels like we’re always on Welsh camp which is great! We’re unbeaten and so are in a good place right now. Going away to Slovenia and getting a draw that we deserved was great. We have to build on that now. We need to go into the back-to-back games with France (the return game in Wales is in April) and be who we are, get on the ball and be positive. Having said that, we know we need to defend really well to get any sort of result against them.
“When we have the ball, we need to be creative against them. We know we won’t have as much of the ball as we’ve had in other games, but when we do have it, we have to be brave with it and get it forward. Our number nine might need to hold it up until others of us can get up in support, because realistically we may be in a mid-block and waiting for those turnovers.”
Ingle also identified a ruthless streak that has come into the Welsh side over the course of recent months.
“In training, we have spoken about that and we have to be ruthless against all opponents. We don’t just want to score one goal or two goals, we want to get as many as we can. In the past we were happy with a 1-0, everyone is, it’s a win, but now, if we can score more goals and create more chances, it will only help us as a team.
“There has to be a level of respect about who we are playing, but at the end of the day, we want to do everything we can to win and, if sometimes that means ignoring another player on the floor, then so be it.”
In terms of her own thoughts on the French team, Ingle was nothing but impressed: “They are relentless. They are scoring goals for fun. They don’t hold off with who they are playing. They are bringing youth in and doing very well. There is a long way to go in the group, but we are realistic. France will probably come out on top of the group, but that is not to say I don’t think we can get a result against them. I just want us to be brave on the ball and solid at the back.
Impetus’ Jean-Pierre Thiesset then asked Ingle two questions, firstly about how Wales have prepared for the game with France. “We don’t prepare any differently compared to how we would if we were playing a team ranked lower than ourselves. We respect every opposition. Obviously, there will be little tweaks in our tactics because of who we are playing and we will have to be a bit more defensive than how we have in previous games, but we don’t change the way we are preparing just because we are playing a top opposition.”
Jean-Pierre then asked the midfielder what she believes Wales need to do to win in France. “We have to be solid in defence and midfield and try to limit the opportunities that France have, They have really fast, athletic players who can whip balls into the box but also go one v one in our wide areas. When we have the ball, I think that we can hurt them on the transition as they leave a lot of space in different parts of the pitch. The Slovenia game showed that where Slovenia scored on a transition and ran the length of the pitch to score. We have enough quality in our side to do that.”