by Callum Ellis
WALES midfielder Angharad James says manager Jayne Ludlow is the key reason behind the transformation of the women’s national team.
Ludlow succeeded Jarmo Matikainen in 2014, and is on the brink of making history by taking Wales to their first ever World Cup.
Phil Neville’s Lionesses currently stand between Wales and their hopes of reaching next year’s tournament in France.
Wales will conclude their campaign in front of a sell-out crowd in Newport on Friday, and James says the success of the national team in recent years is down to the former Arsenal midfielder Ludlow.
“What she has achieved already has been great,” said James.
“When she came in we weren’t in a good place with Jarmo [Matikainen]. We didn’t concede many goals but we weren’t scoring any goals so we weren’t going to win enough matches to be in the position we’re in now. I think Jayne took Jarmo’s good work and applied her style of football.
“Everything is 100-miles-an-hour now and we’re trying to irritate teams and get in their faces. We want to become the team no one wants to come up against and we’ve become that recently.
“Hopefully within the next four or five years it will be applied right through the age groups, and that’s something Jayne is looking at very closely. I think it’s important that she’s looking at the grassroots level as well as the national side of things and her work has been great for women’s football in general.”
England head to Rodney Parade knowing a draw could see them seal qualification against Kazakhstan in their final qualifier in September.
Despite the hype surrounding the winner-takes-all clash, James says it’s one her teammates are relishing.
“It’s a game that we’re all looking forward to and we know we must win. We’re going into the game with confidence, especially off the back of beating Russia 3-0.
“The group is great here and tight-knit. We’re like family really and I think that shows in our performances. We all give 100% and nothing less, which comes from the staff as well as Jayne.
“You can see she gets animated on the side-lines and that shows her passion. We’ve come in and we’re hungrier than ever to get the three points and hopefully qualify.”
The midfielder also reflected on Wales’ penultimate qualifier as they saw off Russia with a 3-0 victory at Newport Stadium in June, and says the home advantage on Friday could be the key once again.
“The supporters were great. We knew it was going to be a tough game because out in Russia it was really tough and we defended for the majority of the game.
“I think we prepared slightly different [in the home fixture] and our game plan was slightly more attacking. I think that helped us and as soon as we got one goal, we knew that we could go on and get a few more. Hopefully we can take that into this game on Friday.”
“I know there’s been a bit of fuss about the ground, but it’s home for us. Whether that was Newport, Wrexham or Cardiff, it’s still a home game and a ground where we’re going to get a lot of fans and family.”
She added: “The fact that it sold out in 24 hours is great and it shows that women’s football in Wales is growing.”