It was another positive year for our men and women's intermediate squads with three teams qualifying for the UEFA Elite rounds that will take place in early 2020.
Built on Welsh Spirit
Check out this interactive online experience of Football in Wales during 2019:
Both the men's U17 and U19 teams enjoyed successful qualification campaigns to progress through their respective groups, and they will be joined in the UEFA Elite round by the women's U17 team who also enjoyed a memorable year.
Meanwhile, Paul Bodin's U21 team ended the calendar year with an impressive victory at home to Bosnia and Herzegovina at Wrexham.
The primary focus for the intermediate teams remains firmly fixed on development and progression, and in addition to the qualifying success highlighted above, both Ryan Giggs and Jayne Ludlow have benefited from a number of players moving into their respective senior squads from the pathway system, and with it establish themselves in that environment.
Here's a closer look at how the five intermediate teams have performed during 2019.
MEN'S U21 TEAM
Rob Page was manager of the U21 team when the draw for UEFA EURO U21 2021 qualifying was made back in December 2018. Joined in Group 9 with Germany, Belgium, Moldova and Bosnia and Herzegovina, the preparations for what appeared to be a difficult test later in the year began in June with two friendlies away to Albania.
Despite 2-1 and 3-1 defeats, Page embraced the opportunity to test a number of players from the U19 squad in the two games. “There's been a lot of lessons learnt on this camp that will definitely help us when our qualifiers start in September,” said Page.
And the action began for Cymru with a home double-header against Belgium and Germany at Wrexham. However, Page had since stepped-up to the senior squad as part of Ryan Giggs' coaching staff following the departure of Osian Roberts, and Paul Bodin would lead the U21 side having made the step-up from the U19 squad.
The qualifying action began in spectacular style for Bodin and his new side as an early goal from Brennan Johnson proved to be enough to claim a famous 1-0 victory over Belgium.
Despite the confidence gained from the victory, group favourites Germany were not taking anything for granted when they arrived at the Racecourse a few days later, and claimed a convincing 5-1 win. Mark Harris scoring what would be nothing more than a consolation goal from the spot.However, the side remained optimistic heading to Moldova the following month, and took the lead through Nathan Broadhead with his first goal at this level.
Although Cymru appeared to be in control, Moldova scored twice either side of half-time, and held on for a surprise 2-1 win.
It was a frustrating defeat for Bodin's side, but their true character was evident in their reaction against Bosnia and Herzegovina at the Racecourse in November.
On the same day that Giggs' senior side qualified for UEFA EURO 2020, Liam Cullen's solitary goal was enough to earn a 1-0 victory and put the qualifying campaign back on track.
MEN'S U19 TEAM
Having qualified for the UEFA Elite round, the U19 side returned to action in March against Spain, Slovenia and host nation the Netherlands.
A late winner for the hosts was a difficult defeat to take for Bodin's talented young side on the opening day, but a heavy 5-1 reverse to Spain followed. “Spain were very good,” explained the manager after the match. “Nobody likes losing so we're disappointed. Defensively, we probably didn't deserve to lose 5-1, but that's what the score was. It's a tough competition and it's games like this we want to test ourselves.”
A 3-0 reverse against Slovenia brought a disappointing end to the Elite round a few days later.
With Cymru hosting the UEFA U19 2020 qualifiers at the end of 2019, a series of friendlies were arranged during September and October. With Rob Edwards stepping-up to replace Bodin, the side drew against Denmark and Norway, before losing to and then beating Austria in a home double-header in preparation.
“The games we've had in our build-up have been very competitive and we expect the same in this tournament,” explained Edwards.
The qualifiers began in style as goals from Joe Adams, Sam Pearson and Keenan Patten earned Cymru an impressive 3-0 win over Poland at Rodney Parade in Newport.
Two penalties from Neco Williams proved sufficient to claim a point against Russia in a 2-2 draw in the second match, but a place in the Elite round was confirmed on the final day as goals from Harry Pinchard and Williams were enough to beat Kosovo 2-0.
Cymru will now host the Elite round in March 2020, where Austria, Germany and Serbia will provide the opposition.
WOMEN'S U19 TEAM
Having missed out on a place in the 2019 Elite round, qualifying for Cymru began their competitive against host nation Northern Ireland in October, but a 1-0 defeat followed.
With Jayne Ludlow and her coaching staff on senior international duty in Belarus, Claire O'Sullivan and James Thomas took charge of an experimental side that included players with senior international experience, together with players from the Orchard Welsh Premier Women's League.
Despite the narrow defeat in the opening match, Norway recorded a resounding 11-0 victory over Cymru in the second game to end any hope of qualification for the 2020 Elite round. However, the side regrouped for the third and final match, and put in an impressive display to beat Moldova 3-0 and finish the campaign on a high. Morgan Rogers scored twice early in the second half, before Alice Griffiths completed the scoring in injury-time.
MEN'S U17 TEAM
New manager Richard Williams took his Cymru squad to the Netherlands for the U17 qualifying tournament in October having stepped-up from the U15 side.
Two away friendlies against Bosnia and Herzegovina brought two defeats, but provided vital preparation ahead of games against Slovenia, Kosovo and the hosts.
“We were able to work on a game plan for the tournament and those games will be used to help the players better understand when things went well and also where we need to improve,” said Williams ahead of the qualifying action.
A late goal from Jay Williams provided the perfect start as Cymru opened the campaign with a 1-0 win over Slovenia, but a 2-1 defeat to the Netherlands in the final game left qualification for the Elite round in the balance. However, goals from Matthew Baker, Marcus Dackers, Liam Higgins and Joshua Edwards completed a convincing 4-1 win over Kosovo on the final day to book their place in the Elite round.
The side will now head to Poland in March 2020 to take on Italy, Montenegro and the hosts.
WOMEN'S U17 TEAM
Having qualified for the 2019 Elite round, the action began for the Cymru U17 side in Austria in March, but a 4-0 defeat to top seeds Belgium followed.
“It was a great opportunity for our young players to compete against a top level ago group team and the progress that our youth teams have made over the years was evident,” explained Jayne Ludlow after the defeat.
“Unfortunately, mistakes around our box cost us, but we know it's something we can work on for the other matches.” However, the tournament ended with 3-0 and 5-0 defeats to Austria and Finland respectively.
Lauren Smith was tasked with taking the team to Denmark for the qualifiers in September. “Preparations have gone well over the past few months,” said Smith ahead of the tournament. “We have had several training camps where the players have worked hard and met the challenges we have set them so far.”
Despite the optimism, a 3-0 defeat to Russia followed, before Denmark were impressively held to a 0-0 draw in what was an exceptional result for the young Cymru side. Qualification for the Elite round was achieved on the final day as a goal from Mary McAteer was enough to defeat North Macedonia 1-0.
The side now head to England in March 2020 where they will also face France and Slovakia.
Check out BuiltOn.Cymru for a full End of Year Review for 2019 from the Football Association of Wales.