It may have been a meaningless friendly, but last night’s 1-1 draw with Finland at a less than half full Cardiff City Stadium at least promised those attending the chance to see the world’s most expensive player (someone who is rated behind only Messi and Ronaldo amongst current footballers by many) and the player widely regarded as the best in this season’s Premier League up to now in the same team.
So far, Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey have only featured together for Wales for thirty two minute when they were already 3-0 down to Serbia with the match, to all intents and purposes, over. However, through the course of the week leading up to the game, the talk was of how Wales would, finally, be putting out something close to a full strength team – even though the match didn’t really count for anything, at least there would be the chance to see what Wales might be capable of in the qualifying competition for Euro 2016.
For some reason though Wales seem fated to never be able to play all of their big guns at the same time (and they have one or two more than just Bale and Ramsey). This time around, James Collins (who, after a series of disastrous showings for his country, looked more like someone who has played all of his football in the Premier league for the best part of a decade in the two October internationals) cried off with an injury and Ramsey was laid low with flu.
A month ago I wrote on here that I had gone to the Wales v Macedonia game expecting nothing and ended up being pleasantly surprised by what I saw, but Ramsey’s absence last night had the opposite effect – I went to the ground expecting to be entertained and felt flat and uninterested when I heard the Welsh team news (sorry if that sounds glory hunterish, but I can’t help the way I felt).
In the event, there was a full ninety minutes from Gareth Bale as some form of compensation. In many ways, Bale’s performance was a summary of the game – I’ve certainly seen more committed displays from him and he was pretty anonymous in the first half, but his quality began to shine through in the second period when a series of runs, shots and clever passes started to trouble the Finnish defence.
Apart from a shot by Celtic’s Teemu Pukki that came back off an upright, the first half was something of a non event, but a more entertaining second forty five minutes saw Wales gradually gain an element of control which culminated in them taking the lead just before the hour mark. Ironically, Bale was not involved as Hal Robson-Kanu (one of a number of Wales players who improved after a poor start to the match)was freed down the left and sent over a deep cross that was nodded in by Andy King for the sort of goal he made a habit of scoring for Leicester a year or two back, but, in his new guise as a deeper lying midfield operator rarely does nowadays.
Finland responded to going behind in a manner which showed the result of the game meant something to them and forced Wayne Hennessey into action on a few occasions. In the end, they managed to get a draw which they may well have deserved on the balance of play over the ninety minutes. However, Wales should have held on to their lead from a position of 1-0 up with two minutes of added time left and I feel they would have done so if their most impressive player on the night, Joe Allen, had been kept on for the whole match instead of being withdrawn with just minutes remaining.
In Allen’s absence, the area in front of our back four, which he had controlled effectively for ninety minutes, suddenly became a part of the pitch the visitors could exploit when Eremenko found himself in acres of space to feed a through pass to Riku Riski to wander through the middle of a Welsh defence which had parted like the Red Sea and score easily. To be honest, it was a shocking goal to concede when you are a goal up in added time and Chris Coleman would, rightly in my view, be getting terrible stick for his substitution if it had happened in a competitive match – however, with nothing really at stake, it can be filed away under things not to do in the future!
It’s easy to blame Allen’s replacement for the gaping hole in our midfield, but, to be fair to Owain Tudor-Jones, throwing anyone on into a match when there is only added time to be played is a risky move when the player concerned is playing in such an important position for a side protecting a one goal lead – anyone coming into a game needs a bit of time to adjust to things and when a substitution is made this late, they don’t get it.
Back to Joe Allen to finish, he’s had a rough time since his big money move to Liverpool with injury and lack of form, but, at something like his best, he can be an important player for Wales. Both Bale and Ramsey have had periods in the recent past where they were being written off and while I would never put Allen in their class, he has the ability to be part of a Welsh midfield which should be competitive in international football if every one is fit and available. The increase in qualifying places for Euro 2016 should give Wales their best chance of qualifying for the latter stages of a competition in ages. but there are four or five core players we need available for most, if not all, of our qualifying group matches – for me, Allen is one of them.
* courtesy of http://www.walesonline.co.uk/