Having reached the halfway stage in their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, Chris Coleman has said his side are enjoying the pressure that is on his Wales side as they go into another crunch clash, this time against Belgium, looking for all three points to keep their undefeated streak alive.
With five games played in the campaign so far, Wales and Belgium sit at the top of the group with Marc Wilmots’ side only ahead of Wales on goal difference. The two sides played out a 0-0 draw in November, a great defensive display from Wales keeping the likes of Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne at bay out in Brussells.
James Collins and Ben Davies have been ruled out of this clash through injury, but Wales welcome back James Chester, Paul Dummett and Adam Matthews to the squad; Coleman was adamant that his side would cope without his defensive absentees:
‘It’s a real positive to have these guys back, on the back of the Israel camp, which was a great performance that got us the three points, it’s nice to be able to bring back players of that calibre.
‘Difficult for James (Chester) after the difficulty of relegation with Hull but equally he has a chance now to end his season on a high with us.
‘Paul Dummett has done really well when he’s been with us and Adam Matthews has experience with us anyway so to have all three back is a huge positive.’
One of Wales’ biggest strengths in the group so far has been their tactical adaptability, using a number of different systems in their games; some in the media have voiced concerns that perhaps missing key defenders takes away the ability to switch to using three centre backs so easily; Coleman acknowledged how key Collins and Davies have been to the set-up in recent games:
‘The formation in Israel important and Ben and James were key to that performance, enabling us to play with a back three, so it is a blow to lose them.
‘But we’ve been here before, we’ve seen so many times that it is rarely the same squad twice, so whilst we are obviously disappointed to lose both players we just have to deal with it and get on with it.
‘You don’t want to disrupt a winning team with injuries but in international football it is inevitable so there isn’t much we can do about that unfortunately.’
50 for Bale
Never has a Wales men’s international reached the 100 caps milestone for one reason or another but in recent years there has been great emphasis from the Wales hierarchy to encourage players to turn up to squads and enable them to reach that milestone. Ashley Williams got his 50th cap in the Israel game, but against Belgium it will be Bale’s turn.
Naturally, Coleman was full of praise for his Galactico:
‘It’s not just that he’s got 50 caps, it’s that on his way to earning most of them his performances have been absolutely outstanding, particularly in recent years.
‘I think he’s a credit to himself, you see his reaction in the games to when we’re doing well and it’s obvious how much it means to him-he’s got 50 now, he can easily get another 50.
‘A lot of our players have got the capacity to reach the 100 mark, they’re good enough, they’re young enough and we really want as many of them as possible to reach that milestone and credit to them, they’ve just got to keep on doing what they’ve been doing and they’ll get there.’
It seems a feature of Wales press conferences now that Gareth Bale’s Real Madrid future is a topic of conversation; this squad announcement was no exception, especially in the wake of Carlo Ancelotti’s sacking:
‘Carlo and Paul were brilliant, it’s a shame for Carlo, I think he’s a great manager. It was a tough season for Madrid, and Gareth is the most expensive player in the world so of course he is going to attract attention.’
‘Its not just him that is having a tough time, Ronaldo, Isco, Benzema, they’re all struggling but everyone wants to focus on Gareth, but he’s a man, he’ll come through it he’s never let us down in any case.’
With rumours circulating of a move away from Madrid for Bale, Coleman refused to be drawn too deep into discussion about it but did comment briefly:
‘Why would you want to leave Real Madrid? He’s worked hard enough to get there. I don’t think he’ll leave, I don’t think he wants to but if he does then there’ll be a couple of clubs who want him and can afford him.
‘I know what the Spanish league is like and people asked me if I’d be worried about him going there or if it makes things more difficult for me but it doesn’t because the tempo is different over there and as a result I think Bale is in better shape than the premier league players, so from that perspective I’d like him to stay where he is.’
With some players in the squad playing in the championship, they won’t have played competitive football for a few weeks come June 12th but Coleman brushed away any potential fitness concerns by saying he will be making no excuses for his players:
‘’We’ve known this game has been coming for some time, hence why we played Holland in a friendly this time last year to prepare ourselves physically for playing in the summer.
‘Our objective is to be playing tournament football which will mean playing in the summer so that experience against holland was very beneficial, despite the fact that we lost.
‘The players have all had fitness programmes so that when they come here to prepare for two weeks we don’t spend the first week getting everyone into shape. When they get here it will mostly be tactical work. We can’t play against Belgium not being 100% fit! Just because the game is in June there can be no excuses. You get enough holidays when you retire.’
Ever since Harry Wilson’s call-up and first cap against Belgium back in 2013, there has been an expectation from fans to see more youngsters getting call ups. West Brom and Wales youth prospect Tyler Roberts was expected to be in the squad this time but missed out.
He, and others, will be involved in preparations for the game though:
‘We’ve got three or four youngsters joining us in the first week so they can see what it’s all about. It helps us in terms of our training, because there’s obviously more players there which is better for everyone.
‘I quite like doing that to give some of the lads a taste of what could be around the corner for them if they work hard and younger players always add a tempo to the training because of he heir enthusiasm.’
‘Ideally they won’t be involved in the second week of preparations unless anything goes wrong but we need to look after these players and make sure they’re ready to step up – the next three or four years are huge for them; they haven’t made it yet but we need to help them as much as possible.’
Wales’ match with Belgium takes place on the 12th of June at the Cardiff City stadium – both sides are undefeated and there will be a sell-out crowd there to watch the action unfold. You can watch it on Sky Sports 5 on the night but we will have more of the news surrounding the Wales set-up as soon as we get it and a preview piece the day before the game. Let us know what you think of Wales’ chances in this one!
Goalkeepers: Hennessey (Crystal Palace), Fon Williams (Tranmere),Ward (Liverpool)
Defenders: Williams (Swansea City – captain), Chester (Hull City), Gunter (Reading), Taylor (Swansea City), Dummett (Newcastle), Matthews (Celtic), Richards (Swansea City), Henley (Blackburn Rovers)
Midfielders: Allen (Liverpool), Ledley (Crystal Palace), Ramsey (Arsenal), King (Leicester City), Vaughan (Nottingham Forest), MacDonald (Bournemouth), Cotterill (Birmingham City)
Forwards: Robson-Kanu (Reading), Lawrence (Leicester City), Bale (Real Madrid), Church (Charlton Athletic), Vokes (Burnley).