Wales booked their place in the World Cup play-offs with a goalless draw against Slovenia in front of a record-breaking Cardiff crowd.
On a tense night in Cardiff, Wales – who have never qualified for a major women’s tournament – knew that a point would seal their spot among the hopefuls next month.
Just 1,745 fans had witnessed the start of Wales’ World Cup campaign against Kazakhstan in Llanelli nearly a year ago.
But expectations have risen in 12 months and a record home crowd of 12,741 – more than double the previous best of 5,445 – were present to see whether Gemma Grainger’s side could move closer to next summer’s World Cup finals in Australia and New Zealand.
Wales did so, despite not being at their best, owing much to a compact defence that kept third-placed Slovenia below them in Group I.
Tottenham midfielder Angharad James won her 100th cap, at 28 years of age, the youngest of the nine Wales male and female players to do so.
But Jess Fishlock, Wales’ most capped player, was on the bench again after missing Friday’s 1-0 win in Greece through injury.
Wales started nervously as if they were only too aware of the magnitude of the game. Rachel Rowe’s mistake allowed Mateja Zver to advance on the home goal and shoot straight at Laura O’Sullivan.
Zver was a creative force during the early stages, and the Slovenia captain played a clever one-two with Lara Prasnikar before flashing a drive just over the crossbar.
Wales slowly settled and a sweeping move saw Sophie Ingle release Carrie Jones for a shot that was safely collected by Zala Mersnik in the visitors’ goal.
Green then set up Ingle from 12 yards, but the Wales captain sent her volley just wide of Mersnik’s upright. Jones was off-target with another attempt and Wales continued to have the edge after the break. James fired straight at Mersnik and Wales were left to rue the absence of VAR after 51 minutes.
Dominika Conc slid into the back of Jones, who was just inside the penalty area, but Ukrainian referee Kateryna Monzul waved play on.
Mersnik made saves from Jones, Wales’ most dangerous player, and Gemma Evans, whose free header from five yards out was straight at the Slovenia goalkeeper and batted away.
Zver gave the hosts a scare by curling wide from 18 yards, but in the end the celebrations belonged to Wales and the hope of emulating their men’s side by appearing at a World Cup. They will find out their play-off opponents when the draw is made on Friday.
O’Sullivan sees Rep of Ireland on verge of World Cup finals
Denise O’Sullivan fired the Republic of Ireland potentially to within one game of the World Cup finals in Australia and New Zealand after they ended Group A with a victory in Slovakia.
O’Sullivan’s first-half finish secured a 1-0 win in Senec to ensure Ireland are one of the three best-ranked sides in October’s play-offs and will go straight through to the second phase as a result.
Vera Pauw’s team had already secured runners-up spot in the group and a play-off berth with victory over Finland last week, but now they could be within 90 minutes of a first ever trip to the finals.
Pauw was forced to make changes as she replaced injured duo Megan Connolly and Niamh Fahey and the suspended Jamie Finn with Claire O’Riordan, Harriet Scott and, making her first competitive start after scoring the winner against the Finns, Lily Agg.
The visitors enjoyed the brighter start and although Slovakia skipper Dominika Skorvankova fired wide from distance with 22 minutes gone, Katie McCabe forced Maria Korenciova into a save seconds later.
Diane Caldwell volleyed over from Louise Quinn’s 34th-minute knock-down, before Ireland took the lead three minutes later.
Jess Ziu broke forward and fed O’Sullivan, who played the ball into the path of Heather Payne before continuing her run to meet the striker’s pull-back and fire right-footed past Korenciova.
In a scrappy second half, McCabe sent a 59th-minute volley just over the angle of bar and post, but chances were few and far between at both ends.
O’Riordan saw a 73rd-minute shot hacked away after McCabe’s dangerous free-kick had been helped on with Ireland attempting to kill off a tight encounter.
However with the hosts offering little as an attacking force, Ireland remained relatively untroubled at the back and were able to see out victory with few genuine scares.
Wins for Scotland, Northern Ireland
Scotland concluded the group stage of their 2023 Women’s World Cup qualifying campaign by cruising to a 6-0 win over the Faroe Islands in Torshavn.
Pedro Martinez Losa’s side, who had already booked their play-off berth after finishing second in Group B, scored three goals in the last five minutes of the first half to effectively wrap up victory.
Nicola Docherty’s early opener was boosted by the quickfire treble from Caroline Weir, Erin Cuthbert and Martha Thomas.
Rachel Corsie headed Scotland further ahead in the 53rd minute then Jen Beattie wrapped up a dominant display with her side’s sixth in the 68th minute.
Northern Ireland took advantage of three own goals to wrap up their Women’s World Cup qualifying campaign with a 3-1 win in Latvia.
Anastasija Rocane opened the scoring at the right end for the hosts but an own goal by keeper Enija-Anna Vaivode hauled Kenny Shiels’ side level before the break.
Arta Luize Lubina deflected a corner into her own net two minutes from time before Vaivode conceded her second own goal in stoppage time as Northern Ireland confirmed their third-placed finish in Group D.