Wales must hit new heights to qualify for Euros - Jayne Ludlow

By Michael PearlmanBBC Sport Wales
Jayne Ludlow welcomes Wales injury returnees

Wales coach Jayne Ludlow says her squad must reach new levels of performance to qualify for Euro 2022.

Wales are aiming to secure at least a second-place finish in Group C, with qualification running behind due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Ludlow's side travel to Oslo to face group leaders Norway on Tuesday, 22 September before three home games to finish their qualifying campaign.

"We've been preparing for this game for a long, long time," Ludlow explained.

Wales - who are aiming to qualify for a first major finals - are currently four points behind Group C leaders Norway with four games remaining.

The nine group winners and three best runners-up qualify automatically, with the remaining six runners-up entering play-offs.

It is likely, but not certain, Wales will need to get a positive result from a game with Norway to clinch second spot, no easy feat against a side ranked 12th in the world.

However, Ludlow says Wales are capable of causing a surprise, if they lift their performance level in their first qualifier since their 0-0 draw with Northern Ireland in Belfast in November, 2019.

"We are still in with a chance," Ludlow said, "we are still very much in the hunt for an opportunity at a play-off position.

"But we have four games where we are probably going to need to reach higher performance levels than we have ever done before.

"Do I think we can do that? Yes. It will just be crossing our fingers that we are all fit and healthy come game night."

Jayne Ludlow and Wales players
Jayne Ludlow was awarded an MBE in the 2019 Birthday Honours for services to women's football in Wales

Wales' most capped player, Jess Fishlock, returns to the squad following an 18-month absence for their Euro 2022 qualifier against Norway on 22 September.

The 33-year-old was out for 13 months with a serious knee injury suffered in June 2019 but has returned to club football with a loan spell at Reading.

Elise Hughes and Gemma Evans also return to the squad following injury.

Captain Sophie Ingle is set to become Wales' third centurion by winning her 100th cap in Oslo.

Ludlow admits Wales are underdogs against Norway, but says they will be spurred on by their desire to reach a first major finals.

"When you compare squads, ours would look very different to the Norwegian squad with regards to the professional players they have and the system they have come through," Ludlow told BBC Sport Wales.

"But that just means it is something for us to overcome.

"When we get the players in we will tell them the game plan and stick to it and work as hard as possible.

"We need to compete and it is going to be very difficult, playing against a side playing at the very top level.

"Some of our players are in that position in the game, but there are many who aren't.

"For the younger players this is just a massive learning opportunity.

"But for our older, more senior players with a number of caps behind them, they are looking to get what they want from the competition, which is a second-placed finish and the chance at qualification to a major tournament."