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Saturday, 09 October 2004

1132: WALES: Has the Welsh threat be

by : David Hulott

There seems to be a general acceptance that Wales owe a great debt to Mark Hughes for having turned a fairly hapless bunch of players into a squad capable of competing with and, occasionally, beating the best in the world. It can’t be doubted that Hughes has certainly improved the self-belief within the Welsh camp during his stint in charge but, friendly internationals aside, results probably aren’t quite as wonderful as many seem to think they have been. There was the well documented win against Italy of course, but you have to go back nine matches to March 2003 for the last competitive victory for Wales, a 4:0 win at home to Azerbaijan.

Whenever it comes to playing England, the other home nations inevitably raise their game by a level or two, with form and ability largely going out of the window. Many Welsh fans have, predictably enough, labelled the English as arrogant, amidst claims that all and sundry expect it to be a stroll in the park for Sven Goran Eriksson’s boys on Saturday. Personally, I don’t know anyone with a grain of football knowledge who thinks that England will saunter to a four or five goal victory (possibly because I don’t know any people who drape themselves in the flag of St. George?), but it seems almost obligatory for every Welsh caller to a radio phone-in to suggest that everyone with an English accent is sitting at home with an abacus in readiness for a deluge of goals.

Even so, aside from passion and commitment (which in itself will be somewhat diluted by the absence of the suspended Robbie Savage), this Wales team really isn’t one that should be considered as anything particularly special on the international scene. Given their limited resources, that’s certainly not a criticism, but any hope Wales have of qualifying for a major finals is always going to be largely dependant on discovering a golden generation or being given a kind draw in the qualifiers (the latter is certainly the case in terms of Group Six).

Yes, they possess an attacking threat in John Hartson, Craig Bellamy, Ryan Giggs and Robert Earnshaw, but the supporting cast is hardly the most convincing for the short trip to Old Trafford. The belief is that Hughes will adopt a 4:1:4:1 formation, with Mark Pembridge employed in a midfield anchor role in a bid to thwart the threat from deep posed by Wayne Rooney. Hartson is expected to be feature as a lone striker, with support down the flanks coming from Bellamy and Giggs. Simon Davies and Gary Spped should make up the central midfield, with the defence made up of Mark Delaney, Danny Gabbidon, Andy Melville and Ben Thatcher. Paul Jones is likely to retain the keeper’s jersey, despite having been dropped by Wolverhampton Wanderers last week.

The best hope for Wales will surely come in taking the lead in what is expected to be a fast and furious opening 10-minutes and then frenziedly chasing and closing down the opposition at every opportunity thereafter. Set-pieces could be the one area in which they can really trouble the English defence, with Hartson always a major threat in the air. In truth, an England side that is almost at full-strength (with only Steven Gerrard missing) really should prove too strong over the 90-minutes. It’s unlikely to be easy though.

BET: Half-time: Draw; Full-time: England – 7-2 (Coral)

David Hulott

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