Wales are a fast-improving force in women's football but there will be few bigger tests of where they stand than Wednesday's trip to France.
Les Bleues' 2-0 win against Scotland on Saturday was their fifth in the group and 13th in a row since finishing fourth at the FIFA Women's World Cup last summer, leaving them nine points clear of the Republic of Ireland. Wales are two behind Ireland after drawing in Scotland and winning in Israel last autumn, and produced a solid display on their recent trip to the Algarve Cup.
Captain Jayne Ludlow took a defensive role in that tournament, providing experience in an otherwise youthful squad. "It's taken me a while to get used to it but it's a nice challenge as you get a bit older," the Arsenal LFC player told UEFA.com. "I've played central midfield for 15 years, I know how to play that role, but at centre-half I'm learning every game. I have made mistakes but I'm learning not to repeat them."
France will provide her biggest test yet if she remains in that position; Marie-Laure Delie, Gaëtane Thiney, Eugénie Le Sommer and Louisa Necib form perhaps the most formidable forward line in international women's football. "A big test but nobody's scared of it, we're looking forward to it," said Ludlow, who gave Wales an early lead at home to France in October, holding it for most the first half but losing 4-1.
"It's the biggest test we could have to see if we've progressed as well as we think we have. It's going to be a different kettle of fish playing them on their home turf from when we played in Llanelli, but it's going to be a good challenge and especially the older girls realise that playing against the top teams is something to cherish, not fear. I hope the girls don't freeze as some of the younger girls haven't played on the big stage, but I'm sure they won't."
Inspiring them is the man who took over as Wales coach last year, Jarmo Matikainen, the hugely experienced Finnish technician. "You can't really put it into words," Ludlow said. "It's something we've been crying out for, the older players. We might be a small nation but we want to win football games.
"I've been involved in the senior setup 18 years, something like that, and I want to come in and have a long-term plan. Be structured, so the girls when they are not at camp are working to become good international players. England have had that for the last 15 years, Scotland for the last ten, Ireland even are ahead of us, but now it's happening.
"Personality wise I really like the guy. I've worked with a lot of different coaches but the thing is he understood me from minute one. As a captain and manager we have a great relationship, he appreciates my opinions but he's strong enough that if he decides differently, that's the way it is. It's been good for me as well, if anybody else had asked me to play centre-half, I'd have said: 'You're having a laugh.' I could sit all day and say how great he's been for us, hopefully it will continue."
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