Liverpool duo Ben Woodburn and Harry Wilson lead new wave of Wales stars set to roar under Dragons boss Ryan Giggs

Matt Jones - Editor 17:21 25/03/2018
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Wales recorded their largest win in 22 years in Ryan Giggs' first match in charge.

Welsh football is on the rise, with the Dragons roaring ever since their famed Euro 2016 campaign which saw Chris Coleman’s side make a run to the semi-finals, where they were beaten by eventual champions Portugal.

Progress was expected to follow, although the fire died down dramatically as the high of making a first major finals appearance in nearly 60 years was followed by tame failure to qualify for this summer’s World Cup.

A disappointing qualifying campaign was then followed with the news that inspirational manager Coleman was stepping down after five years in charge – returning to club management with Championship Sunderland.

He was replaced by another former player in Manchester United hero Ryan Giggs, although the fanbase was divided due to Giggs’ questionable commitment to his nation during his playing days, having only made 64 appearances for Wales and pulling out of numerous friendly squads.

But there is no doubting a hue of excitement hums around the future of the national side under Giggs, whose experience at the elite level and aura as a serial winner will undoubtedly rub off on the Welsh players, including an exciting new wave of talent emerging through the ranks.

A slew of young or new faces featured in Giggs’ first match as manager as the Dragons torched China in their opening China Cup game, winning 6-0 in Nanning on Thursday.

Wales kids graphic

Here, we take a closer look at Wales’ rising young stars and new faces among the squad, and predicts the likelihood of them establishing themselves at international level.

BEN WOODBURN

Club: Liverpool

Age: 18

Position: Forward

One of the nation’s most burgeoning talents. Woodburn burst into flames on the international stage during Wales’ World Cup qualifiers with a stunning winning goal in the 1-0 victory over Austria last October – striking a fizzing shot into the bottom right-hand corner barely a minute after entering the fray as Wales chased a goal.

He was a subject of a tug of war between Wales and England in his youth before that ended with his stunning debut. He followed that performance with a mature outing in Wales’ next game against Moldova, embarking on a powerful run and crossing for Hal Robson-Kanu’s winner.

Promptly signed a five-year extension to his Liverpool deal and has earned the praise of boss Jurgen Klopp who dubbed him the ‘Prince of Wales’. Hasn’t shown any trepidation of stepping onto the big stage, attested by his confident displays and willingness to get on the ball.

First-team chances: 9/10

Ben Woodburn lights up Cardiff with the winning goal against Austria in September.

Ben Woodburn lights up Cardiff with the winning goal against Austria in September.

HARRY WILSON

Club: Liverpool (on loan at Hull City)

Age: 21

Position: Midfielder

Another one of Wales’ exciting youngsters on the books at Liverpool, although his two Wales caps have arrived almost five years apart. Garnered a lot of praise after becoming the country’s youngest ever debutant in October 2013 when making his bow, aged just 16 years and 207 days when he replaced Robson-Kanu against Belgium in a dead rubber 2014 World Cup qualifier – beating Gareth Bale’s record by 108 days.

His second appearance amazingly came last Thursday in an impressive display in the 6-0 China Cup rout of the hosts in Nanning. He celebrated his second cap and his 21st birthday with a fine goal and assist. Looked comfortable on the big stage and has performed well on loan at Championship Hull this season, scoring three goals in seven appearances.

His flowing locks remind fans of Joe Allen and he shares similarities with the Stoke midfielder, if more of an attacking threat.

First-team chances: 8/10

Harry Wilson shone on his first Wales appearance in over four years with a sublime goal in the 6-0 rout of China.

Harry Wilson shone on his first Wales appearance in over four years with a sublime goal in the 6-0 rout of China.

ETHAN AMPADU

Club: Chelsea

Age: 17

Position: Central defender

The exciting Chelsea defender was due to meet up with his Wales team-mates for the China Cup but had to withdraw from Ryan Giggs’ squad after suffering a season-ending injury, fracturing an ankle in the 4-2 UEFA Youth League win over Real Madrid last week.

Exeter-born Ampadu made his Exeter City debut as a 15-year old before signing for Chelsea in the summer of 2017. He has impressed Blues manager Antonio Conte this season during a handful of first-team outings, especially in an assured and physically imposing performance in the heart of Chelsea’s defence in a 2-1 League Cup win over Bournemouth in December.

Earlier in the competition, in September, he had become the youngest first team debutant and first player born in the 2000’s to play for the club’s senior team, against Nottingham Forest. Another player who has been chased by other countries and could still commit to England, Ireland or Ghana as his two appearances have been in friendlies, but has said he will not change his mind about representing Wales.

First-team chances: 8/10

Chelsea teenager Ethan Ampadu is one of Wales' brightest young prospects.

Chelsea teenager Ethan Ampadu is one of Wales’ brightest young prospects.

DAVID BROOKS

Club: Sheffield United

Age: 20

Position: Midfielder

Made his senior debut in the friendly against France in November but has not been included in the squad for the China Cup, with injury and a bout of glandular fever meaning he has not completed a full 90 minutes this year.

His international future looked to lie with England when, in May 2017, he was called up to the Wales U20 squad for the 2017 Toulon Tournament but later withdrew and instead represented England, named the best player and scoring in the final as the Three Lions beat the Ivory Coast on penalties.

Was then called up by Wales U21s for the European Championship qualifiers, scoring in a 3-0 win against Switzerland, and has rejoined the squad following his senior bow.

Despite his troubles this year, has still made over 20 appearances for the Blades and was rumored to be attracting interest from Premier League sides Liverpool, Tottenham and Everton in January, with the 20-year-old already said to be valued at £20million.

First-team chances: 7/10

David Brooks played for England U20s but has since chosen to represent Wales.

David Brooks played for England U20s but has since chosen to represent Wales.

Other new names in Giggs’ China Cup squad:

CHRIS MAXWELL

Club: Preston North End

Age: 27

Position: Goalkeeper

Yet to make his Wales debut, the North End stopper has kept 12 clean sheets in 29 Championship games this season while his 28 goals conceded is bettered only by Fulham’s David Button from keepers who have played at least 20 games.

First-team chances: 6/10

MICHAEL CROWE

Club: Ipswich Town

Age: 22

Position: Goalkeeper

Is yet to make his first-team debut for Ipswich and has played just 10 games of senior football during loan spells at National League sides Woking and Braintree. Born in London and raised in Norway, Crowe qualifies for Wales through his grandparents.

First-team chances: 4/10

DECLAN JOHN

Position: Rangers

Age: 22

Position: Left-back

Like Wilson, made his Wales debut in 2013, aged 18, but then fell off the grid as his career stalled at Cardiff City. Is now with Scottish giants Rangers where he is playing a key role, featuring in 26 games and scoring three goals this season. Looked assured as he played 90 minutes against China.

First-team chances: 7/10

CONNOR ROBERTS

Club: Swansea City

Age: 22

Position: Right-back

Made his Swans debut in the FA Cup against Wolverhampton in January and drew praise from manager Carlos Carvalhal, who revealed club legend Alan Curtis recommended that he consider the full-back. Only has three age grade caps (one at U19 and two at U21 level) but showed a willingness to get forward while also showing an appetite for the defensive element of his role against Wolves.

First-team chances: 4/10

TOM LOCKYER

Club: Bristol Rovers

Age: 23

Position: Central defender

The former Cardiff trainee has made over 200 appearances for Rovers since signing in 2012 and is widely seen as one of the hottest prospects in League One. Having made seven appearances at U21 level, Lockyer made his debut against Panama last year and is the first Rovers player to play for a home nation since Marcus Browning won five Wales caps in 1996 and 1997.

First-team chances: 3/10

LEE EVANS

Club: Sheffield United

Age: 23

Position: Midfielder

Evans missed out on the chance to possibly pick up a Championship winners medal and be part of a Premier League side next season when he left Wolves to sign for Sheffield United in January, but it already looks to be exactly what he needed. Has played 11 games for the Blades, who are vying for a Championship play-off spot. Netted once and contributed seven assists while on loan at Wigan in League One in the first half of the season.

First-team chances: 5/10

RYAN HEDGES

Club: Barnsley

Age: 22

Position: Forward

Attended Hawarden High School in Flintshire, which counts Michael Owen, Gary Speed and Danny Ward among its fellow ex-pupils. Has scored three goals in 24 appearances for Barnsley since joining them permanently in January 2017 from Swansea. Made his Wales debut against Panama.

First-team chances: 2/10

CHRIS MEPHAM

Club: Brentford

Age: 20

Position: Central defender

Four years ago he was a Sunday league player and made his Wales debut as a late replacement for Ben Davies against China. Released by Chelsea at 14, rejected by Watford and turned away by Queens Park Rangers, Mepham drifted into Sunday league football before resurfacing at Brentford, where he has made such an impression this season that in January Bournemouth had a bid of £6.5m rejected.

First-team chances: 7/10

MARLEY WATKINS

Club: Norwich City

Age: 27

Position: Winger

Scored 10 goals for a Barnsley side that defied expectations in the Championship last season, earning him a move to Norwich last summer, although he has struggled to make an impact and is out of favour with Canaries boss Daniel Farke. Watkins, who is of Welsh and French descent, earned his second cap as a substitute against China.

First-team chances: 1/10

BILLY BODIN

Club: Preston North End

Age: 26

Position: Forward

Bodin, the son of former Wales international Paul, previously represented Wales at U21, U19 and U17 level but this is his first time in the senior squad. Joined Preston in January and has scored one goal in 13 appearances to help the Deepdale side rise to eighth and on the brink of the Championship play-offs.

First-team chances: 3/10

TOM BRADSHAW

Club: Barnsley

Age: 25

Position: Striker

Scored on both his Wales U19 and U21 debuts, the Tywyn talent has netted 11 goals in 38 games in the Championship for Barnsley this season. The prolific marksman enjoyed consecutive 20-goal campaigns with Walsall in League One before making the step-up to the Championship with the Oakwell outfit, netting eight times in 45 games during his debut campaign. Replaced Harry Wilson against China to earn second cap.

First-team chances: 6/10

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