Ryan Giggs oversaw Wales’ largest win in more than two decades and a 1-0 loss to vastly experienced Uruguay as the former Manchester United winger’s reign got off to an eventful start at the China Cup.
Wales hammered hosts China 6-0 in their opening semi-final, with Gareth Bale overtaking Ian Rush and becoming the country’s highest-ever goalscorer in the process.
In the final against the South American stalwarts, a youthful and inexperienced Wales held their own but were downed by Edinson Cavani’s sole strike as Wales head home with heads held high and Giggs with plenty to ponder.
Here, we analyse Giggs’ start as Dragons boss.
GIGGS’ ATTACKING INTENT
Wales’ motto that galvanised the team, fans and a nation throughout European Championships qualifying and has since become their mantra is #TogetherStronger. Wales have long been a team for whom the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
A hard-working collective with flashes of brilliance in the form of Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen. Team spirit and togetherness was a major component of their voyage to the Euro 2016 semi-finals and remains so.
But Wales now have other big names to call upon, like Ben Davies in defence. Andy King has been criminally underrated at Leicester, while fans are licking their lips at the potential of emerging youngsters Ben Woodburn, Harry Wilson and Ethan Ampadu.
They still lack a goal-getting striker to lead the line and take the focus off Bale, although six goals in Giggs’ first game in charge against China was encouraging, as was their 10 goals at Euro 2016 which was second only to hosts and fellow semi-finalists France.
OK, it was China, but Wales played with an almost alien flow to their approach, with the team’s creativity somewhat shackled by the adherence to a defensive-minded 3-5-2, 3-4-3 or 3-4-2-1 formation favoured under Coleman.
In Euro 2016 qualifying, Wales scored a joint second fewest tally of 11 goals (Albania netted 10). In World Cup qualifying they were again the joint second lowest scorers of the highest-ranked 27 (top three in each group) teams.
The 6-0 win over China was the country’s biggest in 22 years. And with attack-minded Giggs now at the helm, hope springs eternal that he can add goals to the grit.
FUTURE BURNS BRIGHT FOR DRAGONS
Blooding youngsters is an admirable trait of managers, and provides an exciting glimpse into the future for passionate fans, but the kids coming through have to be of a certain standard to cut it at the top, perhaps something that is even truer on the international stage.
Giggs named five uncapped players in his squad to head to the Far East while in general it had a very inexperienced tinge to it. Many of the new faces might never make a substantial impact at the top level – with Norwich City’s Marley Watkins out of favour at club level and already 27, while 26-year-old Preston forward Billy Bodin looked overwhelmed when coming on as a substitute against Uruguay.
Gone are the days when Wales would have to dip into the second and third tiers to make up a bulk of their squads, which means the chances of 23-year-old Tom Lockyer making it appear slim.
But with Brentford centre-back Chris Mepham only 20, Lee Evans, 23, flourishing after swapping glamour club Wolves for Sheffield United and Declan John just 22 and revitalised at Rangers, Wales might have uncovered some real gems
Of course at the top of the charts are Liverpool duo Wilson and Woodburn who have already shone in the spotlight, while Chelsea’s Ampadu looks a tremendous prospect too.
ASH TO ASHES?
With the new wave of talent steadily rising to the surface, is there is a case to put forward that captain Ashley Williams is washed up?
Some may balk at the very suggestion but his importance and respect commanded at international level masks horrible form at club level for Everton.
In a season of turmoil at Goodison Park, Williams has made a clutch of high-profile errors.
But cracks are starting to appear for Wales too, with Williams reacting slowly as Cavani had the freedom of the box to put Uruguay ahead in the China Cup final.
And while Williams thrived in the three central defender system favoured by Coleman during his five-year reign, his shortcomings at club level will surely start creeping more into performances for his country, especially as the player is approaching his 34th birthday.
What also goes unnoticed is that playing in the centre of three defenders, Williams is afforded protection by James Chester and the excellent Ben Davies, who plays at left-back for Tottenham but his aerial prowess and athleticism see him utilised more centrally by Wales.
Whereas Williams would use his power and pace to rectify his generally accepted poor positional sense in his younger days, now he is becoming a liability. With Ampadu and Mepham on the rise and even Lockyer established at club level, Giggs may find one of his hardest tasks trying to begin the almost unthinkable process of phasing his captain out.
NEW LOOK SQUAD HOLDS ITS OWN AGAINST OLD HEADS
After getting his reign off to a perfect start that even he couldn’t have envisaged, Uruguay was always going to be a vastly different prospect for Giggs and Wales.
There’s no shame in losing to a team that finished above Argentina in South American qualifying for this summer’s World Cup, especially when you consider the experience packed into a squad that knows each other so well.
The bulk of this team formed the nation’s 2011 Copa America triumph, with six of them part of the squad that finished fourth at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Four of the China Cup squad have amassed over 100 caps (Cavani, Diego Godin, Maxi Pereira and Cristian Rodriguez), with Luis Suarez (97) and Fernando Muslera (96) closing in on a century. Manager Oscar Tabarez, meanwhile, was taking charge of his 185th match.
On the other hand, Wales had just four players with 70 caps or more, while 13 of the 23-man squad have earned less than 10, with Giggs handling the reins of just his second match.
So while Wales lost 1-0, they can take comfort from the fact they more than held their own, bombarding the Uruguay box with a succession of second-half corners. Giggs will certainly learn more from this defeat about his players than from the 6-0 China romp.
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