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Wednesday, 22 December 2004

1443: Home Nations Review 2004: A ba

by : Alex Wolstenholme

After the anti-climax that was Wales’s performance in the Euro 2004 play-off against Russia and the doomed bid to overturn the result on account of a failed drugs test by one of the Russian players, 2004 actually got off to a bright start for the national team.

A thumping win over Scotland in the first friendly of the year was followed by solid performances away to Hungary, Norway and Latvia and a home win over Canada.

Expectations were high for the World Cup qualifiers with Wales paired with England but a sluggish start against Azerbaijan and Northern Ireland yielded only two points and convinced Mark Hughes that he had gone as far as he could with the side.

Hughes remained in charge for the next two qualifiers despite becoming Blackburn boss but oversaw a very disappointing Welsh side lose 2-0 to England and 3-2 at home to Poland.

The successes that Hughes had in the World Cup qualifiers were based on a very definite system and once players like Simon Davies were ruled out, Hughes seemed unsure how to change things to get the best out of the likes of Robert Earnshaw who was all too often used as a substitute late in the game.

With Hughes gone, the Welsh FA turned to John Toshack to lead them into what they hope will be a bright future.

Opposition to Toshack’s appointment came mostly from within the Welsh camp with some players unhappy about his forthright criticisms of the team when working for the media but after 25 years as a coach and spells with some of the Europe’s biggest clubs behind him, Toshack possesses impeccable qualifications.

With a number of players retiring from the national side and stars such as Ryan Giggs and John Hartson getting older, Toshack’s resources are thin and although he looks to be taking over a better side than Walter Smith on paper, the new Scotland boss has the benefit of a much higher quality domestic league to get players from.

Toshack is aiming towards Euro 2008 and the World Cup of 2010 and will look to build a team that is well organised with players who are in no doubt as to their role in that team. Some of the criticism’s he made about his predecessor such as the playing of players out of position are unlikely to be repeated.

Given that, it may be to Toshack’s advantage that some of the bigger name players have left the scene. The manager is not someone to mess with and the potential for collision with the likes of Robbie Savage is clear to see.

A younger squad of players who perhaps are not first choice at their clubs and are hungry to impress may be the best bet Wales have of improving on the missed chances of recent years.

Alex Wolstenholme

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