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One Touch Pass

Dear Wales… please give us a few crumbs of hope



It was a bad few weeks for international football in Wales. First, a statistical flaw in the FIFA world rankings was spotted and corrected, leaving them below the Faroe Islands, then came the crushing news that video game company EA Sports had left Wales out of their popular FIFA series for the second year in a row. Once could have been an oversight, now it looked like a calculated snub.

The FIFA correction had the knock-on effect of sinking Wales into the lowest ranked group of countries in the qualification draw for the 2014 World Cup alongside tiny nations we had previously looked down on for fielding teams consisting of assorted handymen and bank clerks.

Home crowds for international matches have begun to look embarrassingly small despite the team re-locating from the cavernous (particularly when empty) Millenium Stadium to the more modest 20,000+ club stadia in Cardiff and Swansea. At times it has looked as if the FAW might have printed the wrong date on their match posters and flyers. Friday’s qualifying game with Montenegro is almost certain to be a record low attendance, with only 6,000 tickets sold so far.

So can Wales show any small signs of improvement in their games against Montenegro and England this week? Just like their world ranking, expectations can’t ever have been lower, but is there any consensus on why the team’s results have continued to decline?

Sky Sports summariser Barry Horne complains so often about Wales not getting the ball forward quickly enough, that it has becoming less depressing to actually go to the games in person instead of watching them on television and hearing his constant whiny grumbling.

John Toshack understandably took most of the criticism for the team’s poor results. There’s a long tradition in Welsh sport of us metaphorically eating our young at the first sign of trouble, but when the end finally came for Toshack, it looked as if even he had had enough of vainly battling against the British malaise of giving possession away cheaply. The man Jonathan Wilson credited with bringing the 4-2-3-1 formation to Spain, who designed special passing drills for Xabi Alonso at Sociedad and got fired as Real Madrid manager for giving an 18-year old Iker Casillas his debut, appeared to have run out of answers.

Craig Bellamy publicly questioned whether Wales had the players to play Toshack’s brand of possession football:

“I’m not blaming Toshack, he wanted to play counter-attacking football, but it’s not in our mentality. We’re hard workers, so why not get at [the opposition]? I don’t think that the players were good enough [to play Toshack’s way]. Our players aren’t made that way and our crowds aren’t made that way – that’s why [the fans] never turned up.”

Perhaps Toshack felt it was only because they had never been asked to play that way.

Looking at the players available though, is there any reason why this set of players should be incapable of competing against the 2nd tier European nations like say, Denmark, Scotland, Sweden or Belgium? Here’s a list of the current squad with a few additions for injuries and suspensions:

Goalkeepers: Wayne Hennessy, Boaz Myhill
Full backs: Sam Ricketts, Neal Eardley, Neil Taylor, Chris Gunter, Adam Matthews, Danny Collins, Darcy Blake
Centre Backs: James Collins, Danny Gabbidon, Ashley Williams
Holding Midfielders: David Vaughan, Andrew Crofts
Attacking Midfielders: Aaron Ramsey, Joe Ledley, Sam Collison, Joe Allen, Gareth Bale, Andy King
Strikers: Craig Bellamy, Steve Morison, Rob Earnshaw, Simon Church, Sam Vokes

That’s 25 players, 20 of whom have played Premier League football.

This is all I’m asking: for Wales to try not to lose to Montenegro, then to frustrate England at Wembley for at least 30 minutes before inevitably capitulating via some horrendous defensive blunder.

Then maybe next year we can all plead our case to EA Sports with a bit more enthusiasm when they leave Wales out of FIFA 13.


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