Ryan Giggs still doesn't convince as Wales boss, while Croatia look to capture Euro 2020 berth in Cardiff

Matt Jones - Editor 00:08 13/10/2019
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Luka Modric and Croatia will come to Cardiff looking for the win that confirms their attendance at Euro 2020.

Wales welcome Croatia to Cardiff in a crucial Euro 2020 qualifier on Sunday.

Victory for the visitors will secure their place at next summer’s tournament, while Wales need victory to keep on their coat tails and sustain their hopes of reaching the tournament too.

Croatia eased past Hungary 3-0 on Thursday to extend their lead at the top of Group E, while Wales were held to a 1-1 draw in Slovakia.

Ryan Giggs’ side continue to struggle to gel under his guidance, and that’s where we start our talking points…

QUALITY TO WIN, BUT QUESTIONS REMAIN

Bale celebrates alongside Moore after his opener against Slovakia. image Credit: Wales FA/Twitter

Bale celebrates alongside Moore after his opener against Slovakia. image Credit: Wales FA/Twitter

Harry Wilson believes Wales have the quality to beat Croatia on Sunday and, it’s true, they do. ‘

Giggs is overseeing a Wales generation that might just be – player for player and in terms of areas mined for talent – the best ever, and certainly in the last three decades.

The question is, whether Giggs is the man to turn the rough diamonds into gems? Right now, he certainly isn’t doing that.

Regardless of injury (Aaron Ramsey has not yet played in this qualifying campaign), acceptable peaks and troughs encountered rearing youngsters and lack of a potent striker (Wales, for all their unearthing of talent, haven’t produced a quality central striker since John Hartson), Giggs is not setting the world alight as was hoped when he took the job.

Juventus’ Ramsey was left at home on Thursday because of a tight abductor muscle in his thigh – Giggs might be protecting him in order to play on Sunday. With the likes of flamboyant Bournemouth forward David Brooks, Cherries team-mate Chris Mepham and fellow defender James Chester all out injured, Giggs still had the luxury of leaving Wilson on the bench in Trnava.

Joe Allen was at his terrier-like best in midfield, alongside RB Leipzig’s Chelsea loanee Ethan Ampadu – the 19-year-old can’t get a game for the Bundesliga side at the moment but continued his development with another confident international display. Daniel James’ rapid rise continued and he put on a delicious assist for Kieffer Moore’s goal.

Jonathan Williams’ career resurgence at Charlton – he is the Championship’s joint-leading assist maker this season – continued, while Joe Rodon, 21, put in another assured performance in just his third cap.

The worrying thing is Wales had more than enough quality and chances to put Slovakia to sleep. You wonder whether Giggs has the ability to jolt them from their slumber.

CROATIA TO GO FOR THE KILL

Zlatko Dalic went from being sacked by Al Ain to coaching in the World Cup final.

Zlatko Dalic went from being sacked by Al Ain to coaching in the World Cup final.

We could be in for entertainment in Cardiff with Wales aware they need an effervescent performance against the group leaders, who themselves will be going all out for the win that would confirm their ticket for Euro 2020.

Since reaching the highs of the World Cup final in Russia 18 months ago, the positive vibe around Vatreni (The Blazers) has worn a little thin following a fallow period.

Since that spirited 4-2 defeat to France, Zlatko Dalic’s side have won just six games from 13, losing four, including a 6-0 thrashing at the hands of Spain in the UEFA Nations League a year ago.

They’ve also been far from flawless in Group E, defeated in Hungary in March and held in Azerbaijan just last month. But they were far too good for Wales in Osijek in June, the performance far more impressive than a 2-1 win suggests.

And they’ll come to Cardiff with confidence after cracking Hungary open in Split on Thursday, easing to a 3-0 win by half-time.

Dalic had the luxury of removing captain Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic midway through the second half and that trio will likely form a formidable front six also featuring Mateo Kovacic, Ante Rebic and Bruno Petkovic in the Welsh capital.

Petkovic scored a brace against Hungary and is in venomous form, scoring five goals in six games for Dinamo Zagreb this season, while he has glided onto the international stage with four goals in his first six caps.

With Modric also in fine form, Dalic will take his side west looking to get the job done.

IS RAMBO READY FOR BATTLE?

Aaron Ramsey

Wales fans would have been sincerely sorry not to see attacking spark Ramsey not make the trip to Trnava on Thursday, with the 28-year-old having not featured for his nation in 11 long months.

The Dragons have missed his fire. Gareth Bale may be the poster boy, but Ramsey’s role in this Welsh side is arguably more significant.

He plays a lot further forward than he ever did during his Arsenal days. Unburdened by defensive shackles he is chief creator for Wales and his absence was keenly felt during their semi-final exit to eventual champions Portugal at the last Euros.

A highly intelligent craftsmen, Ramsey’s absence has been even more keenly felt during this inconsistent campaign. He will be delighted to see a new emerging generation springing up alongside him, but with Bale the spearhead in attack, Wales have sorely lacked their lynchpin to knit it all together.

It was hoped he’d been spared a trip to Slovakia in order to rest his worrisome thigh in a bid to be fully fit for Sunday – veteran centre-back Ashley Williams has been called back into the squad but also did not feature against Slovakia.

Giggs will have had one eye on the Croatia clash, of the belief he will need his strongest XI to combat the creativity at Dalic’s disposal. But there are fears Ramsey could miss out altogether and his thigh twinge is worse than first feared.

Even with Ramsey available the task at hand is a lofty one. But if their true talisman trots onto the field, the rest of the players and a nation will stand 10ft tall.

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WATCH: Unai Emery praises teenager Gabriel Martinelli after Arsenal heroics

Sport360 staff 12:44 04/10/2019
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Gabriel Martinelli.

Reaction after teenager Gabriel Martinelli scored twice and set up another goal in a stellar performance as Arsenal thrashed Standard Liege 4-0 in Europa League Group F.

“In pre-season he was perfect with us all the time playing and training,” said the Spaniard. “I spoke with him to be calm because opportunities to play like tonight will arrive if he continues to train and if he continues to be that hungry.

“I think he is going to do well and tonight confirmed that.”









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No panic over defensive lapses against Salzburg, says Liverpool star Virgil van Dijk

Press Association Sport 16:10 03/10/2019
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Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk insists no-one is panicking despite a crazy performance which saw them throw away a three-goal lead and almost cost them their first Champions League win this season.

Jurgen Klopp’s side were cruising when Mohamed Salah scored the third in the 36th minute but a casualness crept into their game which was subsequently punished with some uncharacteristically lax defending.

When Erling Braut Haaland scored the equaliser – his 18th of the season – with almost half-an-hour remaining there was a palpable sense of disbelief at Anfield.

However, Salah came to their rescue 10 minutes later and, while van Dijk admits they have to do better, he said the players did not share the concern of fans.

“Of course everyone wants to panic and stress and maybe look for all the negatives but we shouldn’t,” he said.

“I’m not even looking at the negatives. We know we can do better but we are human beings and we can’t always play the perfect game. Sometimes it happens.

“So far we are doing pretty well this season. We shouldn’t forget that after one night where we were a bit disorganised.

“There’s no reason for panic at all, we just need to relax, have a look at what can be better.

“Maybe it’s maybe a good thing. We know we still have to improve, but we will.

“We will analyse it, and we have another tough game against Leicester on Saturday. But we have to be confident and keep doing what we do.”

Liverpool’s last two Champions League campaigns have not been without their ups and downs but both have resulted in trips to the final, last season culminating in beating Tottenham in Madrid for their sixth European Cup.

But rarely have those issues been at Anfield, where they have not been defeated in the Champions League since a 3-0 loss to Real Madrid in October 2014.

van Dijk accepts they will have to face more adversity along the way but he thinks their previous experiences have helped in overcoming those hurdles.

“We know by now that we never give up. That’s how we are. We stay calm, we know the opportunities we have if we stay calm and composed,” he added.

“We were 3-0 up and very comfortable and we put ourselves in a bit of a tricky situation but we won, and that’s the most important thing, especially in the Champions League, where not a lot of teams can compete.

“We have to grind it out. We have the three points and that’s the most important thing.”

Provided by Press Association Sport

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