So much about of last night’s tribute to Gary Speed went well, but, unfortunately, and hardly surprisingly in the circumstances, the Welsh side were unable to deliver the victory that the occasion demanded as Costa Rica triumphed in a low key affair 1-0. With over fifty former Welsh internationals turning up to pay their respects (as well as Nathan Cleverly) and others from the football world present (respect to Roberto Martinez for being so willing to sign autographs and have his picture taken with the dozens of fans who approached him at half time and throughout the second half), Gary Speed’s sport was out in force to say goodbye to the manager who played such a part in transforming Wales’ fortunes last autumn, but there were also musical tributes paid from the likes of the Supper Furry Animals, Mike Peters, Bryn Terfel and Men Aloud.
A good and enthusiastic crowd of over 23,000 who were generous in their applause of Gary Speed’s parents and two sons, played their part in ensuring that the night was a success off the pitch, but, the team couldn’t follow suit on it. In different circumstances, Wales would be facing a barrage of criticism this morning if they had turned in a performance like they did last night, but you only had to look at the effect the occasion was having on captain for the night, Craig Bellamy during the pre match ceremonies to see that it was going to be a difficult evening for the Welsh team to give of it’s best – especially when they didn’t have injury victims Wayne Hennessey, Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale in their ranks.
As for the game itself, Costa Rica scored a nice early goal through Arsenal’s talented young striker Joel Campbell and didn’t really have too much difficulty preserving their narrow lead after that. The closest Wales came to an equaliser was late in the first half when Steve Morrison’s header from a corner hit the underside of the bar and bounced out and there was also a decent chance after that when Ashley Williams blasted over from about twelve yards out. In the second half, Bellamy’s snap shot flew inches over and Hal Robson-Kanu (who was the pick of the Welsh players for me) drew a good save out of the keeper with an angled shot from the edge of the penalty area. Wales did get the ball in the net late on, but Earnie (one of six Welsh subs used as the match lost what competitive edge it had in the second half) saw his effort disallowed for offside. However, with the visitors also hitting the woodwork, having a few shots fly narrowly wide and forcing Lewis Price into a fine first half save, the final result was probably about right.
As to how all of this will effect Wales, well, they’ll probably slip down the World rankings from their current 42nd position a little bit, but, apart from that, I wouldn’t have thought it will have much impact at all. There were very definite mitigating circumstances behind the sub standard performance and, apart from the bleeding obvious that we look a bit one paced without Gareth Bale and our central midfield three, although neat and tidy, miss the invention and attacking threat an on form Aaron Ramsey can provide, there was nothing to suggest that Chris Coleman needs to make major changes to personnel and/or tactics once he starts doing the job properly.
Just a couple of other things to finish, first, if it really was Craig Bellamy’s last game for Wales, then thanks for fourteen years of superb service to your country – like Gary Speed, you fall into the category of players who were always there for your country when fit, no matter what the opposition. Secondly, the Under 21 team managed to keep their faint hopes of qualifying for the Finals of the 2013 UEFA Under 21 tournament alive by beating group whipping boys Andorra 4-0 at Wrexham last night – Wales are joint top of their pool with the Czech Republic who have played two matches less, while Montenegro are a point further back and Armenia two behind, but both of them have played a game less than us.