Following a terrific start to their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, Chris Coleman this morning announced his Wales squad for what he is calling Wales’ biggest game since 2003.
Back then, Wales faced a two-legged Euro 2004 playoff against Russia to uplift for the final tournament but lost out, losing 1-0 on aggregate.
Coleman said: ‘This next game will be the biggest game in Welsh football for years, since Russia. It is an absolutely huge game for us.
‘Top against second! The next two games are going to dictate whether we finish in the top two or whether we’re fighting for third.’
The squad contained all of the usual names, as well as the returning Sam Vokes and Simon Church but there was no place for James Chester who has missed a lot of time with a shoulder injury.
There had been speculation as to whether or not Chester would be included as he is expected to make a return this weekend against Chelsea but Coleman was very dismissive of the possibility.
‘I don’t think he’ll play this weekend. You never know but speaking to James last week I can’t see him playing, and even so he’s been out a long time.
‘Shoulder injuries take longer to recover than doctors usually say – it is a shame because he’s been magnificent for us and has struck a great partnership with Ashley (Williams).’
Ashley Williams is expected to win his 50th cap for Wales in the game against Israel and Coleman was full of praise for his skipper.
’50 caps – it was inevitable really for him – he’s a great captain and great leader and what better game to get his 50th in?
‘Ashley’s been in the real world; he didn’t start at a top Premier League academy or anything – he saw what life is really like.
‘He respects and cherishes every game he plays – that’s why he doesn’t miss games – he loves his job.’
The Wales manager also noted how he expects many more players to break the 50 and, hopefully, 100 cap barriers for Wales in the coming years.
‘We don’t have any players with over 100 caps. Of course we don’t get regular tournament football but still.
‘Ash could do it and get 100 but so could Chris Gunter – 57 caps is a very impressive return but we’re trying to push them to as many caps as we can.’
Coleman thinks Sam Vokes, who has made a comeback from injury in recent weeks, adds something to the squad that they haven’t had before.
‘A few times we’ve created scenarios in the games where we’re getting balls into the box that would’ve been ideal for Sam so it is great to have him back.
‘Watching him come back into the fray, it is clear he isn’t 100% but he’s two or three weeks away and, most importantly, back playing football.’
The former Fulham manager also praised Burnley for the way they have handled Vokes in his return from the long injury layoff.
‘Dyche has managed it in the correct way. Some managers might’ve pushed Sam back into the team quicker if they were in the position Burnley were in earlier in the season but he’s handled Sam really well.’
Israel’s manager recently made comments saying Bale was saving himself for Wales amidst criticism of his form for Real Madrid. Coleman jokingly responded: ‘If he is then it is great for me!’
He added ‘When you play for Real Madrid, winning is not enough – you have to entertain too! Gareth’s a big boy and he’ll come through this no problem.’
Reporters asked Coleman whether or not the comments were mind games designed to unsettle Bale further. Coleman simply responded saying it showed Bale is on their minds:
‘I think they’ll be thinking about him – I would be! Most teams would be looking at him – whether he’s on form or not he can turn a game on its head.
‘Gareth comes here, he wants to be involved, he’s incredibly motivated – he is the last person I am worried about honestly.
‘I’ve never been one for mind games. I’d rather get down to business when the whistle blows and see what we can do.’
The Wales squad fly out to Tel Aviv late next week ahead of their qualifier in Haifa on Saturday the 28th; the game kicks off at 5pm on Sky Sports 5.