Wales could earn a surprise play-off place with a home win over Scotland on Saturday and coach Jarmo Matikainen tells UEFA.com their improvement is "maybe a little ahead of schedule".
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Wales's UEFA Women's EURO 2009 qualifying campaign, on their return to the top level after a long absence, produced eight straight defeats with only one goal scored. Four years on, they go into their final Group 5 fixture against Scotland in Llanelli on Saturday knowing victory could well book a play-off place.
A win would leave Wales in second on head-to-head record above Scotland, who would then need to take a point off leaders France next Wednesday to deny Jarmo Matikainen's side. The appointment of the experienced Finnish coach in October 2010 has proved a catalyst for the young Welsh squad and Matikainen spoke to UEFA.com about the Scotland game and their swift progress.
UEFA.com: How are you feeling ahead of Saturday's match?
Jarmo Matikainen: That's what you work for and what the girls have been working and training for. It's an excellent situation and great to be in a position where we still have everything to play for. When we started the campaign probably nobody gave us a chance that we would still be at the races for the play-offs. I'm really pleased and, like all the players, we are really looking forward to Saturday's game.
UEFA.com: Did you expect to be in this position?
Matikainen: The situation a year ago was different from what it is now. It is a long campaign and when we set out on qualification you believe you have a chance. But if qualification was starting now I would be more confident because the players have improved during the year and also we've been able to integrate a couple of new young players. But of course when you start the campaign you always feel you have a chance to go all the way.
UEFA.com: How important was the 2-2 draw in Scotland?
Matikainen: That was the third game of the campaign, we had lost to Ireland and France. After the game we spoke with the players and I said: "You never know how important this point is." We probably took Scotland by surprise, being that active away and getting a point, but it was a big away point and we already thought if we kept improving and workiong that point might be very important.
UEFA.com: Was that topped by June's win in the Republic of Ireland?
Matikainen: That was an extremely good performance from the players, especially bearing in mind the spring was difficult in every respect with player availability, we were really struggling. All the new players for that double-header with Ireland and Israel, you have to give them credit for the way they performed. Those two games were the best they have performed in qualification.
UEFA.com: Despite all that, will it be tough against a Scotland side more experienced in these situations than Wales?
Matikainen: They are the firm favourites with the squad they have and the results they have got in qualification and recent friendlies. They are a big, big team and one of the contenders to go to the final tournament. The experience of being there in these kind of games is of massive importance and we don't have that advantage. But we are looking at this tournament to build foundations for future success, so maybe we are a little ahead of schedule but that is only a positive thing. We are hoping to take that positive energy from recent months, and hoping that it will be a match for the experience of the Scotland team.