by Callum Ellis
WALES’ record goalscorer Helen Ward says there is no pressure on her teammates ahead of their final World Cup qualifier against England.
Newport County’s Rodney Parade will host a sell-out crowd on Friday evening as both sides go head-to-head for a place in next year’s World Cup.
A victory for Jayne Ludlow’s side would guarantee them a place in France, while the Lionesses could seal automatic qualification against Kazakhstan in September if they force a draw.
Wales held England to a goalless draw at St Mary’s earlier in the qualifying campaign, and Ward insists the pressure lies with the Lionesses.
“There’s no pressure on us,” said Ward.
“Obviously, we have our own expectations and pressures from within the group, but from the outside, the pressure is all on England. They should have qualified by now.
“I saw an interview with one of their ex-players and she said she thinks they will win it [the World Cup]. I kind of thought they’ve still got two away games to go – but if they want to think they are already there, that’s cool.”
The Watford Ladies striker says the mood around the camp has been the same as the previous qualifiers and insisted that is down to the way Wales manager Ludlow goes about her business.
“We always have a pretty good atmosphere. We are a close group of girls; the girls, the staff and everybody together. It’s always pretty relaxed.
“I think because Jayne has come from a playing background, she’s been in this environment before under different leaderships.
“I think she understands that as players, we need our time to switch off. We’ve got jobs to do and we’ve got focuses, but she knows when we have downtime, it’s important to just let us be.
She added: “Everyone is always having a laugh and a joke so it’s the same as any other camp really.”
Wales were 3-0 winners during their penultimate qualifier against Russia in June and will return to Newport against the Lionesses.
And despite there being some criticism regarding the choice of venue, Ward says Rodney Parade will suit Wales well.
“It’s massive [playing at home]. I think when you look at the teams that we’ve had to travel to and the places we’ve had to go, it’s tough.
“But to have done it and to put ourselves in a position where the home games are relevant is massive. The home advantage could be the difference.
“We’re playing at a nice little ground that I don’t think they are too happy about, but it makes sense to us.”
Ward, who has netted 42 goals for Wales at senior level, believes qualifying for next year’s tournament in France would be a dream come true.
“100% it would be at the top [of her list of career achievements].
“I’ve got two kids and people would say ‘what is it that still drives you to get up and train?’, but it’s been my dream to reach the finals of a major tournament with Wales.
“If we win on Friday, I can retire next summer after the World Cup and that’s a nice thought.
“But if we don’t and we have to go through another campaign, then I’ll stick at it if I’m selected for another couple of years.”
The game is a sell-out, but fans can still be part of the occasion as the Football Association of Wales is putting on a family fan zone from 4pm.