Matty Jones and his Cymru U21 squad head to the Danish city of Vejle (20 June) as the road to Slovakia for the 2025 UEFA U21 EURO Finals begins with the difficult challenge of taking on top seeds Denmark in the Group I opener.
This will be Jones' first competitive match following friendlies against Austria and Scotland, and the former Cymru midfielder has named a squad of varying experience at this level. Alongside the six uncapped players, Fin Stephens and Owen Beck have 20 caps between them at U21 level, while Rubin Colwill was part of the Cymru senior squad at the last EURO and World Cup finals.
“We are up against the top seeds in Denmark,” said Jones at the recent squad announcement. “So there's an element of respect and we have to make sure that we maintain our focus on what's going to work for us in terms of our game plan and our preparation. Bring on the challenges. It's the start of our campaign and we want to start strong, but in the previous games I really feel that we have built something, and we came away from the March camp with belief and confidence.”
Ten of the 24-man squad who have already represented Cymru at U21 level were handed their debuts by Jones, and the return to competitive action marks the start of a new era for the side. However, the focus very much remains on developing players for the senior squad, and both Jones and senior manager Rob Page have a clear plan on how they will bring through the next generation. “Moving forward I want us to be on camp with the U21s,” said Page, who has promoted Joe Low from the U21s to the senior squad following a successful training camp with the younger players recently.
Charlie Crew, who captained the Cymru at the U17 EURO finals, will turn 17 just a few days before the match, and his presence is part of a wider plan to develop and promote the players with the most potential in the most effective way. “There will always be talent but it's about how we accommodate for that,” explained Jones. “Now is the time to capitalise on his journey and provide him with that next challenge. I've had good communication with him and his family in terms of what the actual plan is. It will be a subtle introduction into the environment so that he's integrated in the right way and that will allow him to perform when he is asked to. Once we feel he's ready, we will allow him to do that, and he's going to play a part in this campaign.”
Meanwhile, despite only turning 21 in April, the versatile Colwill has already made 60 appearances for Cardiff City and has eight senior Cymru appearances and a goal to his name. Fast-tracked into the squad for the EURO finals in 2021 after playing just two games for the U21 squad, Colwill made his last senior appearance for his country in Qatar as he replaced Joe Allen in the closing stages of the defeat against England at the World Cup. Now back involved with the U21s, Jones believes there is plenty to be gained and that moving between age groups should not be considered a negative experience as he and Page look to the future.
“It's the right time to support him,” explained Jones. “March was an excellent chance to integrate him into the group and for him to showcase those role model behaviours he has learned from the senior environment and being involved with the EURO finals and the World Cup. There was a lot of story-telling around that and he embraced his opportunity. He was fantastic. I didn't envisage him being with us that long, but unfortunately Rubin has had some niggles and we have to support him. I feel privileged to have someone like Rubin in the squad, and hopefully it will allow him to build up his fitness. It's a cultural change for us, and we want players to feel it's normal to play in your own age group.”
Although Denmark did not qualify for the U21 finals that will take place in Romania and Georgia this summer, they have qualified for four of the last five EURO finals. Joined in Group I with Iceland, Czechia and Lithuania, the group winners will automatically qualify for the finals in Slovakia in 2025 with the runners-up entering the play-offs for the remaining positions. A positive start in their toughest test would mark a significant milestone for Jones as he looks to make history with this young and talented group and reach the U21 EURO finals for the first time, while the progression of the next generation remains the longer-term goal.