Ethan Ampadu is Wales' future and other talking points ahead of Denmark clash

Matt Jones 8/09/2018
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Ethan Ampadu (c) celebrates with David Brooks and Aaron Ramsey after setting up the Arsenal midfielder for Wales' third goal.

The Ryan Giggs reign at Wales really took off with a thumping 4-1 win over the Republic of Ireland as the UEFA Nations League started on Thursday night.

Beaten by the same opposition 1-0 in a turgid affair 11 months earlier that ruined their dream of appearing at a first World Cup finals in 60 years, this was a new-look Wales as a vivacious new wave of young talent is being brought through by the Manchester United legend.

The likes of David Brooks, Connor Roberts, Chris Mepham and 17-year-old Ethan Ampadu all started the game and Giggs’ faith in his young Dragons was rewarded with a red-hot performance as a depleted Ireland were blown away.

Up next for Wales is a sterner test against Denmark, who reached the round of 16 at the World Cup. Here we look at three talking points ahead of the game:

ETHAN AMPS UP THE VOLUME

Ampadu's impressive performance belied the fact he is only 17.

Ampadu’s impressive performance belied the fact he is only 17.

What a display. There were plenty of impressive performances all over the pitch for Wales on Thursday but the fact a 17-year-old novice fitted in so seamlessly on his first Wales start was beyond impressive.

A pass success rate of 88.2 per cent, one key pass, two aerials won, three tackles and two interceptions (both led Wales), seven long balls played (six found a team-mate) and a sumptuous assist for Aaron Ramsey to make it 3-0 – it’s safe to say that apart from his eye-catching dreadlocks, Ampadu stood out.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised at the teenager taking to the big stage so well in his third appearance and first competitive outing.

This is a player who made his Exeter City debut aged just 15 and was impressive on his Chelsea bow under Antonio Conte against Nottingham Forest and later Bournemouth in the League Cup last season.

OK, so those arenas were low key compared to a competitive international fixture, so could he do it when it mattered? He answered emphatically.

What was even more impressive than seeing one so young stamping his authority on the game was the context in which it arrived.

This is a Welsh side in transition, still getting to grips with their new coach and trying to evolve and build on the excellent progress made under Chris Coleman.

Giggs was trialling a new shape, switching things up to a 4-3-3 and later a 4-2-3-1 from the 5-3-2 they have become accustomed to.

There will surely be teething problems ahead as Giggs tries new variations and players. But for now, can he leave Ampadu out of his starting XI on Sunday?

THE TIMES, THEY ARE A CHANGIN’

The future's bright (l-r): Ampadu, Roberts and Brooks).

The future’s bright (l-r): Ampadu, Roberts and Brooks).

Not many football supporters and pundits will be found raving about Chris Gunter, but he is a talismanic figure among Welsh fans.

A solid, dependable player who never lets you down and someone who’s just always seemed to be there (he’s five games away from becoming his nation’s most capped player).

So to see him not in a Wales starting XI was odd. But the emergence of Swansea right-back Roberts is just one indicator of the sweeping change being initiated by Giggs.

Wales fans still high on the glory of reaching the Euro 2016 semi-finals were brought crashing down to earth when the wind beneath their wings was sucked away following dismal failure to make the 2018 World Cup.

Ashley Williams and Joe Ledley – key protagonists in France and stalwarts of the modern-day Wales – have seen their form fall off a cliff in the intervening two years.

Ledley, at only 31, looks a spent force and a commanding showing from captain Williams against Ireland cannot paper over the many cracks in his exposed armour.

As the famous Bob Dylan song goes, the times they are a changin’, and in Wales’ case, that means for the better.

Ampadu, Roberts and Mepham’s early steps into the international arena are encouraging in terms of looking at long-term replacements for Gunter, Williams and Ledley.

With Bournemouth’s summer recruit David Brooks also excelling on Thursday, Wales could be looking at a crop of players who can be their bedrock for the next decade.

NOW COMES THE REAL TEST

Ryan Giggs

The Giggs reign is really under way and he has breathed new life into the Dragons, but his fledgling managerial skills will be put to the test against the Danes, who are set to be back at full strength.

Wales will face a very different Danish Dynamite side in Aarhus on Sunday than the one lacking any explosiveness in a 3-0 defeat to Slovakia in a friendly on Wednesday.

That Denmark had a student, a salesman and an internet star in their line-up after an extraordinary row between the Danish FA and their top players over a commercial rights dispute. A total of five players from the 24 called up were in Denmark’s national futsal squad for their last match against Greenland in May.

That resulted in top players like Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen and Leicester’s Kasper Schmeichel originally being unavailable for the national side.

Manager Age Hareide was told to stay at home for the Slovakia game as former Arsenal midfielder John Jensen took temporary charge, but he will be back, as will the big guns.

Sevilla’s Simon Kjaer, Chelsea’s Andreas Christensen, Ajax’s Lasse Schone, Borussia Dortmund’s Thomas Delaney and RB Leipzig’s Yussuf Poulsen are just a clutch of the names who will be in contention – and they will provide a far sterner challenge to Giggs’ new breed than an under-strength and woeful Republic.

It’s exactly the type of challenge Wales need and should relish.

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New-look Argentina beat Guatemala 3-0 without Lionel Messi

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Gonzalo Martinez celebrates after opening the scoring for Argentina against Guatemala.

Argentina‘s new-look side played with “great intensity” in their convincing 3-0 win over Guatemala, interim head coach Lionel Scaloni said.

La Albiceleste took on the Central American side in a friendly in Los Angeles, their first outing since a 4-3 defeat to France in the last 16 of this summer’s World Cup.

The Argentina national team’s Twitter page used the hashtag #NewChallenge to refer to the game and it was a very different line-up to the one which played in Russia with Lionel Messi among those not making the trip Stateside.

Thirteen of the 27-man squad were uncapped going into the game, while only four had appeared more than 10 times.

Scaloni said: “They understood very well what it is to play with this shirt, and we are proud that several of these guys have been able to play for the first time with the national team.

“We did what we wanted in the first half, I’m very satisfied, we gave the match a great intensity.

“I think we fulfilled the objective, especially in the first half, I hope these guys are the future of the national team.”

Debutant Gonzalo Martinez got the opener from the penalty spot after 27 minutes after Giovani Lo Celso’s shot struck the elbow of Elias Enoc Vasquez, and the lead was doubled eight minutes later when Guatemala failed to properly clear a corner and a Lo Celso shot from outside the area whistled past Paulo Motta.

Exequiel Palacios fed Giovanni Simeone the ball in the box for Argentina’s third just before half-time.

Simeone, son of former Atletico Madrid player and now manager Diego, said: “I’m very happy. I have great team-mates who give everything to win.”

Guatemala were playing their first international match since 2016 after being suspended by FIFA.

The gulf between the two sides – one ranked 11th in the world and the other 146th – was clear in the opening period, with Guatemala unable to contain the pace and tactical advantage of their opposition.

The second half was a quieter affair with Argentina taking the foot off the gas with the result beyond doubt.

Scaloni gave runouts to debutants Alan Franco and Walter Kannemann as the two-time World Cup winners started a new era with a win.

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Roberto Mancini confident Italy can learn from their mistakes against Poland

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Italy boss Roberto Mancini is confident his side can learn from their mistakes after labouring to a 1-1 draw against Poland in the Nations League opener in Bologna.

Mancini is looking to rebuild after the Azzurri’s failure to reach the World Cup for the first time since 1958.

However, it was a rather lacklustre display for much of the clash at the Stadio Renato Dall’Ara, where Napoli midfielder Piotr Zielinski had volleyed Poland into a deserved first-half lead.

Italy, though, at least produced a spark during the latter stages, when impressive substitute Federico Chiesa, son of former Italy striker Enrico, had been brought down to earn a penalty, which was coolly dispatched by Chelsea midfielder Jorginho.

Tougher challenges lie ahead for Italy, who face Portugal in Lisbon on Monday night.

Mancini, though, feels there is plenty to build on.

“It was the first important match of this new cycle. There were too many mistakes at the start, but we did much better in the second half,” the Italy boss told reporters.

“We were too imprecise technically. We need to improve this and we can certainly do so.”

Forward Mario Balotelli made his first competitive appearance for the Azzurri since the 2014 World Cup, having been drafted back into the international squad by his former club boss at both Inter Milan and Manchester City.

The Nice striker, though, had a limited impact, often isolated in attack and was replaced after an hour.

Mancini, though, hopes Balotelli will continue to make a contribution on the road towards Euro 2020.

“Mario needs to play, he is an experienced player on the international stage, but his fitness levels are an issue right now,” the Italy boss said.

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