WALES WORLD CUP QUALIFIERS | SPORTS FEATURE
Conor Knight looks into Wales’ upcoming games to qualify for the 2018 world cup in Russia.
While we have finally welcomed back regular league football onto our screens, a lot of Welsh fans will still be anxiously looking at the calendar until Sat 2 Sept when Wales face Austria in the Cardiff City Stadium.
The seventh game in their World Cup qualification bid, Chris Coleman’s side will see this as a crucial game in their journey to Russia in 2018. Their fortunes seem to have altered dramatically to the team that reached the Euro 2016 semi-final in France last year. Labelled giant killers, Wales topped a group including England and Russia, beat Belgium and eventually lost to the tournament champions Portugal in a heroic tournament display.
Since then, Wales have hit a rather turbulent patch of form, drawing five and winning only one of their qualification group games. In the three of the last four games, Wales have scored in the opening half, only to concede in the second half and draw. This inability to see off games is uncharacteristic of the spirited Welsh side we have come to admire under Coleman. This fragility will be under scrutiny again in the coming four games through September and October.
Though the team have been displaced by injury and suspension, Coleman needs to find and inspire strength in depth if he hopes to even make it to the World Cup, let alone survive in it. Tenacity needs to be ignited in his troops in order to kill off close games. Calling on the familiar faces of Bale and Ramsey, and leaders like Ledley in midfield, there needs to be a collective urgency and desire to finish these games with nothing but victory.
Austria, Sat 2 Sept
Looking to end their five-game draw streak, Wales face Austria. The Welsh defence will be looking to close down the threat of new West Ham signing Marco Arnautović, who netted twice against them in the reverse fixture. However, they have strength in defence as they do in attack though, with the likes of Bayern Munich star David Alaba. Wales will be buoyed by the fact that Austria will be below them at the bottle of the table prior to kick-off, having also experienced a disappointing campaign.
Moldova, Tues 5 Sept
A must-win game for Coleman’s side, Wales will be looking to this fixture as a certain three points, while also ensuring the squad avoid any serious injury. Given Moldova have only picked up two points so far, Welsh fans will hope the result at Zimbru Stadium, Chișinău, will be as emphatic as the 4-0 victory at home.
Georgia, Fri 6 October
After an extended international break to recharge and regroup, Wales will travel to Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena, Tbilisi to face a Georgia side with only 3 points. Despite Wales’ supposed superiority to their opponents, Georgia proved resilient as they ground out a 1-1 draw in their last meeting.
Republic of Ireland, Mon 9 Oct
Fans will be hoping Wales still have a spot to play for as they reach arguably their hardest game of the four. Despite the home advantage, Wales will be anxious to play the Republic of Ireland, who have showed grit and determination so far in the tournament, winning three and drawing three to sit second in the table (only by goal difference). Performing with a play style that Wales were synonymous with in the Euros, Ireland have ground out wins in the group, scoring less than Wales and only conceding one more goal. This will be a match of resilience.
Sitting four points behind the top two teams, Wales only have the chance to pull a result against one of these. Hoping that Serbia slip up, the defining game of the group will be between the top two teams. A draw would be ideal for Wales, who be able to gain significant ground should they themselves win. Although they have a lot to do, Coleman’s side has proven time and again the tenacity and passion of the red shirt, epitomising the iconic mantra: Together. Stronger.
Cardiff City Stadium, Sat 2 Sept + Mon 9 Oct. Tickets: £10-£30. Info: www.faw.cymru