Cymru manager Gemma Grainger and her squad will return to the familiar surroundings of San Pedro del Pinatar this week as the Spanish town plays host to the 2023 Pinatar Cup with the opening match against the Philippines taking place on Wednesday, 15 February.
“The Pinatar Cup is a competition that we are familiar with and we had a great experience at the competition last year,” explained Grainger. “I’m excited about the squad that we’ve selected as we have a lot of our players available for selection which is always a great thing for us. Three games in six days is a challenge, and in every position we want to make sure we utilise as many players as possible. We have a plan about how we want to do that. We’re in a transitional period, but right now we’re focused on this February camp.”
Cymru finished fourth out of the eight nations that competed at the tournament last year, but this time only four countries will take part in the competition. For Cymru, the tournament will play a key part in preparing for the inaugural UEFA Women’s Nations League which starts in September before UEFA Women’s EURO 2025 qualifying begins in the early part of 2024. Grainger has named a strong 27-player squad to compete at the Pinatar Cup, including defender Gemma Evans, who is on course to make her 50th appearance for her country in Spain.
“It’s been fantastic to work with Gemma,” said Grainger. “She’s a top player and one of the top defenders in the WSL. In the last campaign I think we saw her at her best, especially in the games against France. From a leadership perspective, I’ve seen her grow over time. We’ve got many more years with Gemma and I only see her future getting brighter and her becoming a better player.” Meanwhile, Hannah Cain and Esther Morgan return after long-term injuries, while Sheffield United goalkeeper Bethan Davies is named in the senior squad for the first time. Centurions Jess Fishlock, Angharad James, Helen Ward and captain Sophie Ingle are all included in the squad.
“One of our biggest strengths is our diversity in terms of experience,” explained Grainger. “One of the things we’re looking forward to his playing world opposition, and the Philippines will have a different philosophy and style of play to the European teams. It will be a great test for us. We want to make sure that we can build momentum as a team, and we will plan for the three games and make sure that the team continue to build on that momentum. We’re not going to be able to put the same starting line-up out in every game, and we will utilise the time during matches and training for us to get out of the competition what we need to.”
Following the opening match against Philippines, Cymru will then take on Iceland on Saturday, 18th February before facing Scotland on Tuesday, 21st February. The Philippines are the lowest ranked nation at the Pinatar Cup in 53rd place while Cymru are currently 32nd having reached the play-offs for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup last year. Scotland are 25th in the rankings table while Iceland head into the tournament as favourites having qualified for the EURO finals last summer and are currently ranked 16th in the world. Cymru were last in action back in November when they returned to Pinatar to take on Finland in an international friendly, with Carrie Jones scoring in the 1-1 draw.