What was the point of Wales’ match with Sweden yesterday?


I watched Wales’ 3-0 defeat by Sweden yesterday on a grainy and unreliable stream while listening to Radio Wales’ coverage of the match. Leaving aside the fact that what I was watching and listening to were about ten seconds apart, the overriding impression gained from what my eyes and ears were being fed was that the whole thing was something of a pointless exercise.

The radio commentary provided by Rob Phillips and Kevin Ratcliffe made it sound like Chris Coleman would not be concerned in the slightest by what was happening out on the pitch – indeed, from what they were saying, it felt like the whole ninety minutes was something to be endured in that the main object of the exercise was to come through the game without injury.

Judging by what I was seeing, it looked like the players were of the same mind as those describing the “action”. For example, when Ratcliffe claimed that Ashley Williams (who was also caught out for the first Swedish goal) could, and probably would, have prevented the final goal in the dying minutes if there had been something riding on the match, it was hard to disagree with him when you saw the replays – so, again, I found myself thinking what was the point of the whole thing?

It was interesting, and a bit concerning, to read Chris Coleman’s post match comments when he talked of Wales, possibly, being a little complacent – in fact, he gave the distinct impression that he believed this was a criticism which could be aimed at the team since they qualified for the upcoming Euros.

Quite what grounds the players of a country preparing for their first major tournament in fifty eight years had/have for feeling complacent, I cannot begin to fathom, but once that word has been introduced into the situation, it must be said that there were elements of what Wales did yesterday which could have been described as complacent.

Coleman still preached positivity though as evidenced by him stating ”remember that when we’re 100% at it and we mean it, then we’re a good team. We’ll pick the boys up.”.

This echoed what the pundits were saying on television and radio during and after the game – the real business starts next week and it makes no difference how good or bad a side looks in the run up to a tournament because nobody gains any points to be carried into the main event through winning friendly matches.

So, the manager doesn’t seem too worried about what has happened since Wales beat Belgium at a raucous Cardiff City Stadium to all but secure their ticket to France. That match was played on 12 June and it will be virtually a year to the day later when we kick off against Slovakia next Saturday and if the men who know more than me about these things (e.g. Chris Coleman and former players with fifty or so appearances for Wales) are not that concerned by what has happened in the interim, then I suppose I shouldn’t be either.

Mikael Lustig scores the second goal for Sweden after Wales failed to deal with a corner - if the whole thing was written off as something of a pointless exercise for the Welsh, then I don't think the Swedes would have gained much to take into the tournament which begins in five days time either.*

Mikael Lustig scores the second goal for Sweden after Wales failed to deal with a corner – if the whole thing was written off as something of a pointless exercise for the Welsh when it comes to preparation for the Euros, then I don’t think the Swedes would have gained much to take into the tournament which begins in five days time either.*

However, not being worried, is not quite the same as being optimistic about our prospects and the question I ask is what is there that has happened since we beat the side rated the best in the world (according to FIFA’s rankings anyway) to make you feel upbeat about our prospects of making it out of our group?

As I made my way home on that sultry Friday night when Gareth Bale’s goal beat the Belgians, I thought that, given the evidence of displays such as that one, the one in Israel and the one in the first game with Belgium, we could repeat the 1958 achievement of making into the tournament’s second stage, what has there been since then to back up such a feeling?

Given the way the last year has gone, it’s somehow appropriate that our qualification was confirmed on a night when we were beaten. It’s not all been bad – we got the job done in Cyrpus, albeit unconvincingly, and I thought we played pretty well in defeats by the Netherlands and Ukraine, but the sense of momentum we had through most of 2015 seems a long way off now.

When we scored twice without Bale, Ramsey, Robson-Kanu or Vokes involved against the Dutch, it was reassuring to see evidence that we still had goals in us, but what have we seen since then to garner hope that we can score regularly in the Euros?

In the three matches since then, we’ve scored a single penalty in time added on at the end of the game to gain us a slightly fortunate draw, but it’s hard to think of much else that has seriously threatened our opponent’s goal.

Increasingly, it’s looking like Gareth Bale is going to have to play to the potential which marks him out as one of the players who could have the biggest individual impact in the tournament if we are to come up with enough goals – possibly, that’s always been the case, but I thought the Ramsey’s, Vokes’ and Robson-Kanu’s might be able to help out a little along the way.

That seems less likely now and with no real suggestion that our central defenders have a goal in them when they come up for set pieces in the way that, say, City’s do, we really do look like we need Bale to be at his brilliant best if we are to progress to the knock out stage.

All of this shouldn’t come as too much of a shock when you consider that we were hardly free scorers in our qualification group, but back then I thought that, come the big occasions, Ramsey in particular would be able to reveal the eye for a goal and a defence splitting pass which made him just about the best player in the Premier League in the first half of the 13/14 season.

That may still happen of course, but, if it does, then it will come about against a backdrop that has seen City’s youngest ever player never reaching such standards in the weeks and months since that Belgium game – Bale can produce the goods for Wales, but a Ramsey somewhere near his best would make it that much easier for him to do so.

So, after a match which seems to have all been a bit pointless, I still await the Euros with the sense of anticipation of someone who has longed for my country to take part in a tournament like this for more than half a century.

Am I worried about what will happen? No, but the slightly uncomfortable truth behind that answer is that in the last year or so, the sense of expectation that your team will do the business, which can often be a source of such worry, has gradually been eroded in me – by the same token, I suppose a lack of expectancy means that any success will taste all the sweeter should it come.

*picture courtesy of http://www.walesonline.co.uk/

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8 Responses to What was the point of Wales’ match with Sweden yesterday?

  1. Dai Woosnam says:

    Thanks Paul, for questioning the point of yesterday’s fixture.
    I figured it was just me who thought “Who was the idiot at FAW who arranged this fixture…?”
    I have no faith whatsoever in Cookie as a tactician, but surely even HE is not so daft as to arrange this game?
    But he went along with it…and should not have. He should have said “Over my dead body!”.
    I was amazed the game was on. I only found out about it yesterday morning. I could scarcely believe it.
    The very LAST thing you want, in the week that the Euro 2016 final stage starts, is a morale-sagging heavy defeat …!!
    I mean to say…SWEDEN…!!
    Such ineptitude when it comes to Psychology 101, just does my head in.
    Wales are at best, indifferent travellers.
    That crunch game in Bosnia, and they are despatched.
    Yet Ireland go there a few weeks later in an even bigger game over two legs, and see them off.
    So, that should have been a warning to the men in suits at the FAW.
    That should have told them that if they were gonna have a friendly just days before, it should have been against the Faroe Islands, or San Marino.
    And one hesitates to say it, but I will…even THEM not away from home …remembering Ranieri’s Greece !!
    Staggering incompetence by our generals. Breathtaking World War One stuff.

    And what does Cookie say after this debacle?
    He says they showed naiveté…,,

    Tosh could rightly accuse his young lads of 10 years or so back, of such a quality. But these are the same lads now in their mid twenties and older, with a stack of international caps to their names !!

    NAIVETE … ??!!

    From the day we qualified, I told you we would be home before our postcards. I was the only such voice in the euphoria amongst your contributors.

    I cannot see us getting a point in our three games. Indeed, Slovakia are my best each-way bet to make the semi finals.

    Let us hope I am a Jeremiah…and that the lads prove me hopelessly wrong.

    It will not be the first time I will have goofed.
    I would love it if the lads could get on to the next stage.
    But I would also be amazed.

  2. Russell says:

    I feel we won’t,make it out of the group,hope I’m wrong,however it seems the pundits suggest strong discipline and Greek type football could be the answer, I would suggest other sides in the group have equally or better resources in that department.

    I fear we don’t have a plan b or c other than hoping Bale or Ramsey are on fire, both of whom have had long seasons.

    Wales fantastic group performance could well have been their final.

    Good luck though to them and all the travelling fans.

    On a broader note a lot of sides have young new talent on show,which should deliver some interesting games, suspect Spain will be up their in the end along with Germany.

  3. Anthony O'Brien says:

    I read that Coleman blamed “COMPLACENCY” for the Welsh performance — and that is even more disturbing than Naivety.

  4. Russell says:

    Adrian ,without queston Coleman has done well with the squad ,should stay away from press conferences or get a media support person ,to assist, his remarks at times can appear naive , ironically.

  5. Dai Woosnam says:

    Of course it looks like Cookie will not play the VOKES-CHURCH partnership up front, but will go for a 4-2-3-1 or a 3-4-2-1… and these formations do not have an earthly.
    Neither Vokes nor Church, nor Robson-Kanu can hack it alone…but two of them together, could be formidable.
    But will our manager listen?
    Alas, no.

  6. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Having thought about it a bit more, maybe Coleman is saying that he’s detected an attitude that the squad believes that simply qualifying means that they have already made it so to speak? I suppose that when you become the first group of players from your country to make it into what we now understand to be a Finals tournament in fifty eight years, then it may be understandable that they would have a sense of achievement already which would be at odds with a manager’s desire to see the squad continue to develop from that high. However, the use of the word “complacency” didn’t strike me as quite right when I first heard it and it still doesn’t now.
    I’m still not sure what was gained from the match with Sweden. Teams which make major finals know that after they have qualified they face a period of eight months or so (or, possibly, a little longer) without playing a competitive fixture and they have to make a decision as to how best to fill that time. Although not playing any games at all before the tournament they’ve reached starts is an option, it’s not one that I can remember a single team taking before, so, in essence, there is a choice between keeping the friendly games coming thick and fast or, the option Wales have gone for, using them sparingly.
    Having gone down that route, then, as Dai says, the choice of a trip to Sweden less than a week before our first match in France seems an odd one – especially when you get pundits with plenty of Welsh caps telling you that the overriding concern is to not get injured!
    I daresay that those in the Welsh camp could give you a list of reasons as to how losing 3-0 to Sweden in a match where tackling (on the Welsh side at least!) appeared to be a no no was a good thing, but we now find ourselves in a position where we are going into the Slovakia match having won just one in seven (against Andorra) and with questions having to be faced about a loss of confidence.
    I see that Iceland (another team whose results have been poor since qualifying) beat Liechtenstein 4-0 at home last night. This makes Dai’s point, Iceland will at least go into the tournament with a winning mentality now – if Wales had to have a game over the last weekend, then at least have one against a team we should be able to beat comfortably and, hopefully, get one or two of our players with the confidence of an international goal behind them as Euro 2016 begins.
    Of course, none of this will count for anything if Wales end up qualifying from their group because the way they prepared for the competition will be shown to be justified. For me, that’s why any criticism of our preparation and/or Sunday’s performance should be low key in nature at this time.
    However, the truth is that since the qualification process ended, only Joe Ledley (who is a major fitness doubt for Saturday and, maybe, beyond that), Emyr Huws (who, wrongly in my view, hasn’t been selected) and Simon Church have scored goals for us – Church’s came from a penalty and Ledley’s from the follow up to a penalty which had been saved.
    All of this suggests to me that goalscoring opportunities are going to be few and far between for us – in fact, if Gareth Bale is reduced to the role of mere mortal in our three matches, then I struggle to see how we will score at all.
    Nevertheless, I don’t go along with Dai when he says we should include two out and out strikers because, frankly, I’m not sure we have one who is good enough, let alone two. Hal Robson-Kanu has done well for us as someone who is mobile and quick enough to drag centrebacks into areas which create gaps through the middle for Bale and, hopefully, Ramsey to exploit, but he is, seemingly, really struggling to make it for Saturday and so Sam Vokes looks likely to start.
    I had great hopes for Vokes and Simon Church when they were part of the Under 21 squad which did so well to reach that Play Off with England seven years ago, but neither of them convince me now. I felt a bit sorry for Vokes on Sunday because he was very isolated, but Ian Walsh gave him a hard time for getting basics of centre forward play wrong at times and you could see what he meant – Vokes convinces me when he plays for Burnley in the Championship, but he hasn’t done so for Wales for years. As for Simon Church, he’s an example of a player who has gone backwards since he hit, say, 22 – he was clever, sharp and could finish well, but, unlike Vokes, he’s now unable to sustain a good enough level of consistency to be effective in the Championship, frankly, I think he’s a lucky boy to be in the party after the way his career has gone in recent years.

  7. Dai Woosnam says:

    Fair enough Paul that – like me – you think that none of of our three strikers are exactly …CONVINCING.
    However, because one is not up to the job, does not mean that two together cannot be.
    Let me give you an analogy.
    One man tries to push his car out of a snowdrift. He nearly does it, but just fails.
    He calls on a another chap to help him. And suddenly, it is hey presto.
    In other words, Cookie should play two of our three strikers, and tell them to stay within 15 yards of each other.
    I will guarantee that our opponents will keep two men back to mark our two.
    And our two must stay upfield…no coming back to confuse our defenders !!
    And Gareth plays in the hole behind them as the front of the diamond…and there will thus be one man less to mark HIM. (He will now have two men trying to foul him for 90 minutes, instead of three…!!)
    But Cookie will duck it, and play just the one up front.
    With results I can predict already …right now.

  8. Russell says:

    Bet Bale is up front with Ramsey and Allen behind.

    All the rest standing in a line of defence,ready to pitch the ball long for Bale run on.

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