Cardiff will be in the Olympic spotlight as coach Matikainen looks for Welsh Euro glory
Gary Baker on 26/03/2012
The Millennium Stadium will have the honour of being the first venue to be used at this summer's Olympic Games when football teams from around the world come to the Welsh capital city.
Fans will be in Cardiff on July 25 and 26 to see both the women and men's sides take the pitch and literally kick-off the biggest multi-sports event of the century in the UK.
The stadium will be used at various times up to August 10 with possible visits from the superstars of British football among the men's and women's teams.
Plus, the stadium will be hosting the men's bronze medal match the day before the final at Wembley.
There may have been disputes on whether the Welsh men's players will be involved in the Great Britain side, but one thing is sure - it is set to cause a big impact in the city and Wales in general with tickets for events at the Games going like proverbial hotcakes..
To see world class women's football played at the 74,000-capacity arena should also give our national team something of a boost.
The Welsh Women's side has not qualified yet for a World Cup or European Championships but, with a mixture of youth and experience in the squad, they are hoping to make steps forward in future years.
Players like Jayne Ludlow, a 33-year-old, 50-times midfielder who is one of several Welsh women with the Arsenal club, one of the top sides in national women's football, Emma Jones, of Liverpool, who is the country's most capped player with 61 appearances, and 51-times capped midfielder Loren Dykes, pack the squad with experience.
Then the youngsters, such as 18-year-old Josie Green, capped four times, who is with Manchester City and made her début against Azerbaijan last year, plus 17-year-old prospect Hannah Keryakopolis, attached to Liverpool but who has yet to make her first appearance, are is new blood in the pipeline.
The most immediate issue facing the national women's squad is a trip to France on April 4 for a make-or-break clash against the group leaders in the the 2013 European Championships qualifying competition.
The French have not lost any of their four matches, including a 4-1 win over Wales at Llanelli's Parc Y Scarlets back in October.
That loss came just about a year after the Football Association of Wales appointed Finn Jarmo Matikainen as their first full-time women's coach.
Matikainen coaches not just the senior women's team but also the age groups at under-19 and under-17 levels.
And he believes there are encouraging signs in the Principality for the women's version of the 'glorious game'.
Matikainen said: "I don't know about the Olympic football in Cardiff and the effect it will have on Wales but we are hoping that the European Under-19 Championships next year will certainly be very good for us.
"The football standards at the Olympics are the highest possible and it is a rare treat and opportunity for those who have not seen women's football before to see this."
As for Wales, the coach said: "We are fourth in our group (European Championships at senior level) at the moment and we are always aiming to win every game.
"France are the semi-finalists from the World Cup last year and are strong but we did well against them in our last qualifying match last year. For us, coming from 49th in the FIFA rankings to challenge a team in fifth in the world, I think we can challenge them again.
"The girls are playing hard and are clearly aware of the demands on them."
He also appreciates that blend of youth and experience in the squad. He said: "We have a good standard and mix of high experience in the senior team, young players coming through and, in that respect, we are getting into a better position.
"We are not where I want us to be yet and I think there is a massive amount of work to do but I'm happy with the steps we are making."
He is also happy about his time as Wales national coach, adding: "I have been here for 16 months and I am enjoying every minute of it. I enjoy working with the players and with the people of the FAW. People are very positive."
And, when the Millennium Stadium floods with crowds watching women's football at the Olympics for possibly the first time, then the sport will gain as high a profile as it is possible to get - and put Wales in the limelight.
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