Huge anti climax for Wales as World Cup wait drags on.

It’s a personal view that I’m sure many Wales fans will not share, but I find the latest World Cup disappointment brought on by last night’s 1-0 loss to the Republic of Ireland at Cardiff City Stadium so much easier to deal with because I have the memory of Euro 2016 to sustain me.

After the Euro 2004 Play Off defeat by Russia, I genuinely thought that I would never see my country playing in the Finals of a major tournament in my lifetime – I have now though and, even if it never happens again for me, the memory of how successful and good we were when we got there makes me better able to cope with disappointments like last night.

Of course, the sense of despair is still there to some degree and writing pieces on here when your team has lost an important match can often feel like a chore, but, honestly, it’s not the main reason why this will be shorter than my normal reaction reports on here. No, that is because it was such an awful game with virtually nothing to recommend it – the almost complete lack of goalmouth action makes it a very hard game to analyse in any significant detail – Ireland did a job on us and, perhaps, deserved their win, but the general standard of play was so low that it’s hard to see them going any further in the tournament and, even if we had, somehow, scraped the win, the same would apply to Wales.

Therefore, I’m going to limit myself to a series of bullet points that occurred to me before, during and after the match – make of them what you will;-

  1. One cause for concern I had before the match was that on Friday night Wales had played a game in Georgia which was competitive throughout and required a lot of physical and mental effort to gain the three points, before completing the second half of a round trip of not far short of 6,000 miles back to Cardiff to prepare for an absolutely crucial game seventy two hours later. By contrast, the Republic were two goals up inside twenty minutes against what was, comfortably, the worst team in the group in Dublin and, compared to us, had a far less physically and taxing encounter from then on, before then making the short trip to Wales – there had to be a very good chance that Ireland would be fresher than us in body and mind last night.
  2. Gordon Strachan fastened on to genetics as a reason for Scotland’s failure to make it through to the Play Offs after their draw in Slovenia on Sunday – apparently Scotland struggle because they are smaller and less strong than the sides they face (indeed, only Spain, those serial failures when it comes to international football in recent years, were smaller than them in the last European Championship). Such a claim is poppycock as far as I’m concerned and, almost certainly, a diversionary tactic by Strachan, but I would say that Wales are a pretty small team by international standards with none of our regular centrebacks being particularly tall for that position – we get the occasional goal from a set piece (Ashley Williams against Belgium for example), but we don’t win many games by overpowering our opponents in a physical sense.
  3. My only reason for mentioning the above is that, if last night’s match became a “typical” British game with the ball spending a lot of time in the air, then that would be playing into Ireland’s hands – our best chance of beating them was to out football them.
  4. Any chance we had of doing that disappeared when Joe Allen went off.
  5. Losing one of the three players we have of genuine top quality at this level would have been bad enough, but we were also missing not only our best footballer, but also someone who, as the side’s best athlete and someone with a powerful presence would have helped us in a physical sense as mentioned above.
  6. I think blaming the ref or possible Irish skulduggery is counter productive – if Wales were really as good as they were supposed to be, those things wouldn’t have been an issue.
  7. While Ireland deserve credit for the clinical way they scored their goal, it owed an awful lot to contributions from a couple of Welsh players who are having a wretched time of it in club football this season. If we are apportioning individual blame, then I would say that Wayne Hennessey was more culpable than Ashley Williams, but until recently I would have included the latter in that nucleus of top quality international players I mentioned earlier – I don’t think he is now and it must be doubtful if he ever will be again.
  8. On the subject of Hennessey, there will be one person I know who will be berating him for not kicking that ball upfield, but I would say that, with our lack of aerial power, that was effectively giving the ball back to Ireland. Nevertheless, we had sailed pretty close to the wind with some of our “build from the back” football in Georgia and I’m sure the Irish would have noticed this. Building from the back is risk and reward football and it proves to be a risk worth taking for some teams, but, thinking back, I can’t remember that approach paying dividends before last night in this campaign for Wales and, after last night, it definitely became a risk not worth taking.
  9. Chris Coleman has dropped a few hints lately that, contrary to earlier reports, he may decide to stay on with Wales for a while longer. I welcome this news if it is true and would say that the job should be Coleman’s for the foreseeable future if he wants it, but there are those who think differently and cite decisions made last night and earlier in the campaign which cost us – I think a degree of realism is required here. You can argue about who should have started between Sam Vokes and Hal Robson-Kanu, but, although they both have their qualities, neither of them are going to strike fear into any decent international defence. We just do not have a striker of real quality and we haven’t done so for a decade or more – the generation of exciting, new attacking players we have coming through seem to be more in the number ten/winger mould to me. Players like Mark Hughes and Ian Rush do not come along too often for a country like Wales, but if you were to go down a couple of levels from them, a Dean Saunders, John Hartson or, going back further, John Toshack would make such a difference for us.
  10. Now that it’s all over for us, I think it has to be said that this latest qualification attempt has seen a squad, which was was by no means nearing the stage where it needed to be ripped up after Euro 2016 because it was getting too old, decline in the past fifteen months or so. For me, the main reason for this decline is that the nucleus of quality running through the team (Williams, Allen, Ramsey and Bale) have not been as influential as they were. Yes, we are still quite a young squad, but Williams is the obvious one to look at if we are talking about age catching up with someone, while Allen has maintained his standards best, but, for various reasons, did not spend enough time on the pitch. The other two have missed games as well, but they have both been erratic for the most part – it’s harsh to say this, but when you’re a country of our size, you’re never going to have great strength in depth, so you are always going to need more from your big players than we got from Bale and Ramsey in the campaign just ended.

So, although Wales will almost certainly play the odd friendly game in this time, attention turns back to Cardiff City now for next seven months and, on that score, while the national side were in heartbreak territory, there was some pretty good news on the club front as City’s Under Development team drew their first Premier League Cup group game of the season 3-3 at Blackburn.

The starting line up included two new names to me in Obi and Calver. Presumably, they were both trialists, as was Parish who came on for Cameron Coxe for the the last quarter. City conceded a goal in the first minute and trailed three times, but the encouraging news was that Lee Camp saved a penalty and Callum Paterson scored all of our goals with the final one coming in added time – I wonder if either of them will make the squad for the televised game at Birmingham on Friday night?

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10 Responses to Huge anti climax for Wales as World Cup wait drags on.

  1. Anthony O'Brien says:

    Paul.

    Your bullet points provide a brilliant summary of what went wrong last night, I was not going to mention the errors which led to Ireland’s goal, but as you have named names, I’d like to add that — as Princess Diana once memorably remarked – - there was a third person in her marriage. This may or may not have been the case, but there was certainly a third person to be considered in why the goal happened, and that was our left back who suddenly stopped running instead of chasing hard to confront the Irish player who rushed down the left touchline and crossed the killer ball into the middle. But finger-pointing is a pointless exercise, as Hillary Clinton is finding out in her latest ghost-written book, What Happened. (Talking of ghosts, I wonder who will quite rightly be “berating” our goalkeeper for not kicking the ball upfield?)

    Not so long ago the Welsh team (and fans) were in a dark tunnel with apparently little hope of digging through to World Cup qualification. Last night, there was light at the end of the tunnel Then the rockfall of an Irish goal took place and the light soon went out. But the tunnel is still there to be tackled, young stars are beginning to shine, and we must continue to keep going forward and aim for the light which is still glimmering somewhere. In the words of an old cliché. Hope springs eternal,

  2. Clive Rymon says:

    Hi Paul,well written report as usual.I think the damage was done earlier in the campaign with all those draws from winning positions.It has always been frustrating that when games come along in competitions we miss key players through injury or suspensions with no suitable replacements of the players they replace,being a small country it’s something we have had to live with.

    As to last night game I thought about Warnock comments about travelling and I remember when the fixtures were announced for this campaign and thought if the last game depends on a result there could be a fatigue issue there,I’m not using it as an excuse but the point you made about same mabey explained that it was always going to be a factor in the game.

    I would like to give special mention to a player who I personally think is one of best midfield players our country has had namely Allen,and when he was mugged last night and had to be replaced our chances of winning the game went with him,and also a special mention for the crowd for there rendition of the anthem like you I was there and it was spine tingling occasion.So this time it was not to be but all I hope in future that we can find players to step into the shoes of players who’s time in the team is coming to an end and go from strength to strength.

  3. Clive Harry says:

    Morning everyone. After being almost sick with nerves before the game, I was surprised to find myself in a similar mindset to Paul after the game – probably because after Allen had been ‘removed’ from the game our passing, particularly at the back, became more and more pointless. The Irish must have been delighted to sit back and watch our aimless sideways and back efforts. Consequently, I was hoping for no score and other results to go our way until Ireland were gifted their goal thanks to more aimlessness at the back. The fact it was scored by McLean was particularly galling in view of his cowardly tactic of fouling from behind for most of the game. However, if you do need a chuckle this morning, try the WoL player ratings : mostly high praise and 8 or 7 scores (Ramsey an 8 – he was awful!!).
    One of my main concerns afterwards was that players like Brooks and Ampadu have still not been committed – Coleman’s reluctance to play friendlies needs to be set aside and young players integrated to make them more certain of their international future. Finally, I actually think it is time for Coleman to go – not because of failings but managers become stale after a certain time in their job and I think this is now happening. Players such as Williams, Ledley and King need to be phased out and promising youngsters brought in via the medium of the aforementioned friendlies.
    Ah well, roll on Friday and perhaps sight of the ever improving Callum Paterson.

  4. BJA says:

    Good Morning Paul and everyone – So near, and yet…..
    I really did not feel this was a game we were going to lose, even after going behind to some careless defending. I thought for much of the game we were the more inventive, albeit if not able to really penetrate a stubborn Irish defence who reminded me of our men in blue by their stoutness. The Irish attack were well contained in the main, but where we failed in attack was the poor deliveries from set pieces and open play and I could not help but think we needed more pace when we advanced.
    The loss of Allen was unfortunate to say the least, for when he was buzzing around in mid-field in the opening 30 minutes, I thought we looked impressive, apart from the limitations mentioned above. I was hoping young Woodburn would have come on earlier, and possibly Brooks also to give a few more problems for our opponents in the last twenty minutes. But Managers know best – perhaps!
    So now that this campaign is out of the way, time to concentrate on the Championship. Patterson’s hat-trick yesterday will have no doubt encouraged NW, but I’m not sure if he was playing as a full back. If he was, have we ever in our history had someone in that position score three times in one match, but also, how culpable was he for any of Blackburn’s goals? Paul, over to you as ever for answers.

  5. Lindsay Davies says:

    Spot on, Paul. Huge disappointment. I don’t usually allow myself the luxury of optimism before a match that matters to me, but, on this occasion, I really thought we’d win. I am absolutely with BJA, in that I felt that it was pace-going-forward that was lacking. We just couldn’t get behind those large, bearded, men – except once; Jonny Williams to H R-K, and a blinding save. I have to say that I thought Ash W was more to blame than Wayne – he seemed to be pondering his retirement speech while half-heartedly trapping the big man’s roll out. Oh, and where was MacLean’s marker?
    Still can hardly believe the whole dispiriting event – and the Republic, one of my least favourite teams in the whole world.

  6. Elliot Ramsden says:

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  7. HarryKirtley'sGhost says:

    You make some fine bullet points, Paul. And I am in agreement with most of them.
    And I am sorry that most of our MAYA compardes are gutted. I am not particularly, other than the fact that I am like Lindsay, particularly sad that we lost to the ROI…because I too have a curious dislike for them…being one of only three national teams that I always want England to beat …the other two being Argentina and Germany
    (No, there is no need to “go figure”… Yes…you’ve got it in one…!,)
    And seeing as both you and AMO kindly allude to me in your comments on the game (and basically could script verbatim my words on the debacle that led to the goal), let me not disappoint you further…I was the very first to post on WoL these comments under the player ratings article:

    ‘…
    Aaron Ramsey an EIGHT…?
    Dear me, I would give him at least three less.
    His worst ever home game for Wales.
    And saying Hennessey had no chance with the goal, is not true. He had the “chance” to kick the ball into the opposition half, instead of embarking on a suicidal throw.
    But I do not totally blame him. Cookie has long swallowed the modish thinking of “building from the back”…forgetting that he does not have Beckenbauer, Bobby Moore, Roberto Carlos and Bertie Vogts in his back four…!!
    Ashley, James, Ben, and Chris are normal mortals who can find their second touch is a tackle. THAT is why we must ensure that we eradicate such kamikaze moves from our play in future.
    …’

    What I omitted to say in that contribution was that the current Welsh defenders attempt to be mirror images of Coleman the player. A player who was in love with himself to the extent that he clearly saw himself as a stylist extraordinaire. Far, far, far too casual. He thought he played like a Maldini, but Paolo was cut from a different cloth, methinks.

    (But still I fantasise that Cookie has a lifesize photo of Maldini on his bedroom ceiling. )

    I find it hard to erase from my memory a stupid back pass from Cookie just before halftime in a key qualifier somewhere – I think in one of the Low Countries – that was seized upon and all the heroic Welsh defence in the first half was thrown down the drain. (No doubt that our MAYA brethren of a statistical bent – like the admirable Richard Holt – can provide the necessary chapter and verse here.)
    In the Royal Navy of Horatio Nelson, Coleman would have been flogged by the gangway or at the yardarm, for dereliction of duty that day.

    Now, I started this by saying that I was in agreement Paul with most of your bullet points. The only two that slightly make me raise an eyebrow are #3 and #8.

    In #3, you say…
    ‘…
    My only reason for mentioning the above is that, if last night’s match became a “typical” British game with the ball spending a lot of time in the air, then that would be playing into Ireland’s hands – our best chance of beating them was to out football them.
    …’

    Naturally, I zero-in on your use of the term “out football” them.
    Excuse my cod Norwegian accent here…

    “Sigmund Freud, Carl Gustav Jung, William James, Alfred Adler…your boys have taken a helluva beating…”

    It is a sign of how deep the tika-taka “let’s play in boring triangles”, propaganda has lodged itself in the collective psyche of so many of my MAYA comrades, that I will bet you that most MAYAns had read that comment of yours Paul, and nodded in agreement.

    Listen my dear friends, please look at the Laws of The Beautiful Game. And you will see something that may surprise you: heading of the ball is not only allowed, but positively encouraged.

    And we must remember that with the best teams, neither the foot nor the head does most of the work. Rather, the real worker is the ball itself.

    Any team whose goalkeeper rolls the ball out to a defender, hoping he will expertly control it and then start the playing of little triangles all the way down the field to score some divine 27 pass goal, should go to the circus …a place where they may be more gainfully employed.

    And that apart, why spend 27 passes, when you can do it in a couple…as with Bryson’s wonderful goal at Sunderland the other week…?!

    So to me, to “out football” another team, brings to mind Toshack and Keegan, not Xavi and Iniesta.

    And here we come to bullet point 8, where you mention that were Hennessy to kick it long, it would come straight back at us. Oh …really?

    That is far from a given. Some balls would deflect off the heads of the big lads in the Irish defence, and end up as throw-ins or corners to us. One in ten, our striker might get his head to first, and one in ten would get us a free kick near their goal, when our boy is pushed in the back. But let’s agree with you that several the other 8 of the ten, do come straight back.

    They come back in the direction of our forward running midfield, and we have a good chance of gaining possession around the central circle, and moving toward their goal…and thus saving all the kamikaze danger of tiki-taka near our own goal.

    (And let me seize there on the last two words…and use them in their other meaning. Mr Duffy, who many judges reckoned was the Man of the Match last night, recently scored two own goals in one game against the Bluebirds. So let us not assume that had we put them under proper pressure from the start, with two up front, that they would have still had a cigar on, for 90minutes: they wouldn’t. And the tragedy is that in Hennessey we have a keeper with a kick like a mule. But I would not mind betting we have a manager who knows the Law that says “you cannot be offside from a throw-in”, but is blissfully ignorant of the Law that says “you cannot be offside from a goal kick”…as most football fans I know, are also ignorant of. Thus Hennessey’s marvellous kicking was ignored, and he committed the same stupid error that the Slovenian keeper made at Wembley a few days before, spoiling a heroic display by allowing Kyle Walker to intercept his daft throw, and cross for Harry Kane* to toe poke the last minute winner. If only the duffer had kicked it down the field, and gained vital territory.
    I was taken by the restraint of his teammates that night. I was amazed they did not try to throttle him there and then on the pitch. I guess they knew that he had kept them in the game with his saves, and so if anyone had the right to throw the game (ouch!) then it was he.

    If from the start we played a sensible 4-4-2 (Cookie showed his tactical naïveté last night when, needing two goals, took his loan striker off and replaced like-for-like, instead of pulling Williams or Chester off, and playing two up front), then it could have been a different story. And if Cookie had decided to eat humble pie and make up with our best centre back by far and get him out of his self-imposed international retirement, we would have a centre half who could jump these past two years…and Ronaldo would never have scored that header. Assuming that Cookie had chosen our best header to mark Portugal’s best header…which is far from certain, given that he had chosen the relatively non-jumping Chester to man-mark him at corners. Had Tony Pulis ever become manager, Ginge would have been an ever-present and possible captain.

    Before signing off, I think I was the first in these pages to applaud the purchase of Callum Paterson. He is a phenomenal player who can play any position on the pitch. Every time I have seen him play for Hearts, he has stunned me.
    And he is a leader of men: a future worthy captain of my boyhood club. A man who would never defecate in the street and think it funny.
    Just a note on his spelling: one of your above MAYAns is spelling his surname like he was a relative of the great Floyd Patterson. He is not.

    Rather, he may well be related to an even greater Paterson (with one T) …Australia’s greatest poet, Banjo Paterson. Check out his wonderful ‘Clancy of the Overflow’ on YouTube.

    And talking of YouTube: I do have problems with the double L in his “Callum”. To me the name should have just one L …as with the late great Calum Kennedy .

    I adored that man and one song in particular…his glorious ‘Lovely Stornaway’. It used to be my party piece.

    http://youtu.be/_3ld_Cre3BQ

    *I often wonder if his parents were lover of puns and figured that he would prove to be be a tornado of a goalscorer. A veritable HURRICANE.
    DBW.

  8. The other Bob Wilson says:

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    Regards

    Paul

  9. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Just a few quick reactions to what’s been posted in reply to my piece. Anthony, we do have some great looking young talent coming through, but I just wish one of them was a striker!
    Clive R, I think you are right about those early drawn games – 1-1 v Georgia meant we became underdogs for all but short spells at the beginning and end of the campaign.
    Clive H, I’ve mentioned on here or on the messageboard before that I rate Chris Wathan, but I honestly don’t know where he was coming from with those markings – to me, the Welsh team were full of five and six out of ten performances (I think I’m being a bit generous there as well), I still find it hard to settle on a Welsh man of the match (Ledley possibly because of his lack of game time?), because I can’t think of anyone in the team (certainly in the starting eleven) who could look back at the game and think “I played to my full potential out there”.
    BJA, you touch upon something that, increasingly, I’m thinking is true about the goal. Well taken though it was, it did owe a lot to luck and, without that luck, the Welsh defence would have had a quiet night. After the game, Danny Gabbidon talked about Ireland setting a trap which Wales fell into with the goal, which is true to an extent, but Hendrick points for someone else to go and close down Ashley Williams first and then realises he has to do it himself when there is no one in a white shirt closer than him to the ball. The luck comes into it twice, first when the ball stays in play after the initial challenge and then when it rolls along the touchline for a good ten yards before Hendrick reaches it – I don’t think the ball crosses the line for a throw in, but it was a very close thing at times.
    Lindsay, I’ll be surprised if we’ll be watching Ireland play in Russia this summer (unless it’s in a warm up game for the hosts!) – I read somewhere that it was like watching a match between two mediocre League One teams on Monday, a bit harsh maybe, but not very. A question occurred to me yesterday, how do you think it would go if those two teams played each other ten times? I’d say it would be something like three wins each with four draws, there’d be three 1-0s to either side, three 0-0s and a 1-1 goal fest!
    Sorry Dai, I can’t give your answer the time it deserves, but I would say that I’m not aware of one team that have won a major tournament at international or club level (by club level I mean tournaments on a continent wide basis), by playing a percentage based POMO type game – trophies have been won using that approach at levels below the ones I’m talking about, but I believe you have to mix things up somewhat to enjoy success with a “long ball” game at the very top levels of the game. You make some fair points about midfielders getting forward to gain possession from “second balls” from kicks upfield by a goalkeeper, but so many sides play with two central midfielders in a holding role these days that, invariably, there’d only be one man trying to get to the sort of knockdowns you talk about. For me, too many sides try to play a version of tika taka when they don’t have the basic footballing ability to play that style effectively, hence they play boring sideways and backwards football of the type that was taking City towards a probable relegation under Paul Trollope. Such teams need to add some elements of a more direct game to their approach and, based on their attempts to build from the back over the past year or so, Wales fall into that category. Whatever the rights and wrongs of what I say, that throw out by Hennessey would have signalled danger to even the Barcelona team of 2011 – it was an accident waiting to happen and, having seen it a few times now, it only left Williams with the option of booting the ball up the pitch, or out of play, something that, as you remark, our keeper is well capable of doing himself, because he is very good with the ball at his feet.

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