Wales' Jarmo Matikainen hopes to spoil England's World Cup plan

By Owen RawlingsBBC Sport Wales
Jarmo Matikainen
Wales v England - Fifa Women's World Cup Qualifier
Venue: Cardiff City Stadium Dates: 21 August, 19:05 BST
Coverage: Live on BBC Three and BBC Radio Wales

Four years since being appointed Wales women's manager, Jarmo Matikainen is hoping to spoil England's World Cup qualification party in Cardiff on Thursday.

A draw will be enough to earn England's place in the finals in Canada, with Wales five points behind and in second place in Group 6 with two games to go.

The seven group winners qualify automatically with the four best runners-up contesting the play-offs for the final spot.

Since stepping on to these shores in August 2010, Finn Matikainen has been credited with changing the face of women's football in Wales.

The 54-year-old was unable to guide Wales to the European Championships in 2013 but, under his charge, the senior side have risen 10 places to 37th in the Fifa rankings.

He says his side can pull off a victory against England, managed by Welshman Mark Sampson, despite England's 2-0 win in October 2013.

"It is a fantastic group of players and we believe we can do it," he said.

"They are one of the absolute top teams in the world.

However he said they had "played a very good game last October against them and we have improved since then".

Wales v England
Wales host England at the Cardiff City Stadium on Thursday in their penultimate World Cup qualifier.

Travel challenge

Matikainen had been due to leave his position in March, before agreeing to stay on until the end of the qualifying campaign in September.

But he has since said he will continue until July 2015 if the team reach the finals.

Whatever happens, Matikainen is sure he has had a positive impact on women's football in Wales.

"We have been able to put together a professional structure," said the former midfielder.

"One of the biggest rewards in the last four years has been that we have more and more players that are focused on performance, on improving, on development.

"We are winning more and more people to that side."

But the former Finland technical director says there is plenty of work still to do.

Only two of the 20 players named in the squad to face England are based in Wales - a cause of concern for Matikainen.

"It's never a good thing if players start to travel too early," said the Finn, who made 400 appearances during his playing career.

"We have to have a set programme for every age-group to make sure there is continuity.

"It's important that our own league is strong enough to keep the players long enough.

Jess Fishlock and Jarmo Matikainen
Wales captain Jess Fishlock has signed for Frankfurt on loan from Seattle Reign.

Jess Fishlock

One player who has clocked up the air miles is Wales captain Jess Fishlock, who was rested during the recent 1-1 friendly draw against Scotland.

The 27-year-old, capped 80 times by Wales, has frequently travelled across the globe to represent Wales.

Fishlock started in the UK with Cardiff City Ladies and Bristol Academy, but has since played for Melbourne Victory and Seattle Reign.

The midfielder has now agreed to a loan spell at German champions Frankfurt - a move closer to home, which pleases Matikainen.

"It is going to be a change for the better," he continued, adding that the games in Germany "are in a regular schedule and you can plan... from the national team's point of view, much better".

"I'm extremely pleased for her and very proud.

"She is an outstanding professional and she's so well respected in international football."

World Cup boost

Fishlock is spearheading Wales' push for World Cup qualification, with a hat-trick against both Turkey and Montenegro.

The seven group winners qualify for the finals
England lead Group 6 by five points with two games left, including against second-placed Wales in Cardiff
The four runners-up with the best record against the teams who finish first, third, fourth and fifth in their groups go into the play-offs
The two teams with the best coefficient ranking in the play-offs will be drawn against the other two teams in the first round. Each tie will be played over two legs in October
The winners of the first round ties will then play each other over two legs in November for the remaining European place at the World Cup
There will be 24 teams from across the world competing in Canada

For Matikainen, a place at Canada 2015 would be the ultimate legacy.

"Ten years ago in Finland, the women's national team qualified through the play-offs against Russia," said the Finn.

"The media attention and everything sky-rocketed.

"The interest and resources in and around women's football stepped up to a different level.

"It is the same situation for every national team that goes to the final tournament.

"It's a major, major boost for football in that country and that association."

Wales' last Group 6 match is on 17 September against Ukraine, who are nine points behind Wales but with two games in hand.

The match in Lviv could see Wales qualify for the play-offs - but first they will be hoping to beat their foes on Thursday.