Gemma Grainger Looks To Turn Up The Heat In Iceland

Wales women kick off the football weekend with a huge test of their progress in Iceland.

It’s where manager Gemma Grainger believes the journey to qualification for a major tournament starts in earnest.

The fixture may be their opener in the UEFA Women’s Nations League – rather than World Cup or European Championship – but Grainger insists the route this tournament offers as a back-up for Euros qualification is invaluable.

“Success in the Nations League is us performing and competing,” says Grainger.

“We’re the fourth seeded team in the group so I’m sure externally if we finish fourth we’ll meet everyone’s external expectations, but internally they are very much not our expectations.

“Our expectations are to perform and, ultimately, we want to qualify for the European Championships so being in League A gives us the best opportunity to do that.

“The 16 teams in League A is effectively a 16-team start to a European Championship, so to be in that we’ll use these games to help us progress towards the ultimate goal.”

Wales will start their campaign in Reykjavík as the underdogs in a group – A3 – that also includes Denmark and Germany.

Grainger’s side, ranked 29th in the world, are the fourth seed in the group with third seed Iceland ranked 15 places above Wales.

On Sunday, Erol Bulut insists his Cardiff City “machine” can keep pumping out the results whether or not Aaron Ramsey is fit to play at Sunderland.

The Bluebirds have won back-to-back victories for the first time since February and aim to make it three wins on the bounce when they head to the North-East.

Cardiff will travel to the Stadium of Light, looking to chalk up a third consecutive Championship win for the first time since a run in January-February 2022.

They are likely to include captain Ramsey in their line-up after he missed the midweek 3-2 win over Coventry City – which followed their derby triumph against Swansea City – but even if the Wales skipper is missing again through a hamstring concern, Bulut says the team will keep firing.

“Aaron Ramsey is very important for this club, for me and for the team. It’s not easy to not have him in the game,” said Bulut.

“But we showed – our players showed – we don’t have to concentrate only on one player. If it’s not Ramsey, it has to be someone else. Our company, our machine has to work always. It has to be the same performance if someone else plays.”

Even more desperate for a victory is Swansea City head coach Michael Duff.

The former Northern Ireland international has yet to win a Championship match this season and knows the pressure is mounting with the Swans in the relegation zone.

On Saturday, the club host fellow strugglers Sheffield Wednesday.

Duff admitted: “We need a win. The players need a win. I want to win more than anyone.

“I have been given a massive responsibility at this football club and I want to leave it in a better place than I found it.

“At the minute we are nowhere near where we want to get to. But you can’t stick the cherry on top before building the foundations.”

Swansea will be without the suspended Ollie Cooper and injured Joe Allen, Liam Walsh and Kyle Naughton.

Newport County will host Bradford City on Saturday with County manager Graham Coughlan at the centre of speculation linking him with the managerial vacancy at Cheltenham Town.

Newport are currently 12th in League Two.

Coughlan said: “I don’t know much about it and would rather concentrate on Bradford. We have 24 hours to prepare for a big game and that is where my focus is.”

Wrexham could move into the automatic promotion places in League Two if they win away at Stockport County on Saturday.

Phil Parkinson’s team are currently fourth – three points behind leaders Gillingham – and are unbeaten in seven games after losing their opening game at home to MK Dons.