Ingle: Wales have never been in this position

  • Wales face England in crucial France 2019 qualifier

  • Dragons top Europe's Group 1 ahead of Friday's clash

  • Ingle: "We’ve never been in this position before"

“Those two games were dreadful, to be honest.”

While we are almost four years on from the last time Wales and England met, those matches remain ones that captain Sophie Ingle would rather not talk about. The sting of six goals without reply across 180 minutes does not subside quickly.

However, from the Welsh perspective certainly, their second defeat – as England booked their spot at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015™ – marked the end of an era and the start of their last one. Two months later, Wales legend Jayne Ludlow became just their second ever full-time manager, giving Ingle the captaincy at the next available opportunity.

A meeting on Friday – with France 2019 now the goal – will provide an intriguing status update on Ludlow’s crafting of the team. “We were a different side then, we were under a different manager, we play a different game, so it should be a different game completely,” centre-back Ingle told FIFA.com. “[Ludlow] prides herself on being hard to beat and hard to break down.”

Wales manager Jayne Ludlow looking ahead to Wales' FIFA Women's World Cup France 2019 qualifying match with England

It is an ethos that now sees Wales sat in unfamiliar territory. Topping Europe’s Group 1 – leading the Lionesses by a point having played a game more – and yet to concede, they will travel to Southampton to face the second best team in the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women’s World Ranking, with something of a psychological boost.

“We’ve never been in this position before,” said Ingle. “It will be tough going into the England game, but if we can do our jobs, we’ll hopefully get a result to keep us top of the group. We play against these players week in, week out, being in the same league as many of us – so that can only help.”

Though Ingle has had the good grace to not make a point of their lofty position to her English colleagues in the Liverpool Ladies dressing room. “I don’t want to rub it in their faces,” she said with a laugh.

“We have to be realistic and we know we’re coming up against a good team, so to come first in our campaign would be really a tough ask, but we still believe we can get something out of the England game. If we don’t, it’s not over, we still have three games at home after it to at least try to get a play-off position, which would be massive for us.”

Wales in qualifying so far

  • Kazakhstan (A) – 0-1

  • Russia (A) – 0-0

  • Kazakhstan (H) – 1-0

  • Bosnia and Herzegovina (A) – 0-1

Two places shy of their best-ever spot of 32nd in the Women's World Ranking, Wales beat Finland (28th) before drawing with Switzerland (18th) and Austria (21st) at this year's Cyprus Cup, though the UEFA Women’s EURO 2017 semi-finalists earned a win on penalties. Only a chastening 3-0 loss to Italy (15th) left a bitter taste for Ingle, who saw a side littered with upcoming talent be denied fifth for the second successive year.

“It is really good for the senior players, as the youngsters coming through are really pushing us as a team, and we got some really good results over there,” Ingle said. “The Italy game was obviously a bit poor from us. We conceded from three set-plays, which we weren’t happy about – we’ve done really well on them for last year to 18 months, so to concede three in the same game was not like us.”

But with just 16 goals conceded in 22 matches across the last two years – 50 per cent of which coming in just two games – and only five defeats, “hard to beat” has become their default setting under Ludlow. Meanwhile, togetherness in the team is not in short supply, as they displayed against Switzerland.

An awkward silence preceded the clash, as Ingle and Co awaited the Welsh national anthem. “It didn’t start for a few minutes,” she laughed, “so we just had to say to each other ‘right, shall we just start singing the anthem ourselves?’ So, we had to!”

The question now remains as to whether this band of tight-knit Dragons can scorch the France 2019 hopes of the high-riding Lionesses. Friday will go some way to answering that question.