A blank canvas for Wales and an artist in Ryan Giggs, but masterpiece will take time

Matt Jones - Editor 23:00 09/09/2018
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After a soft landing into the international arena, it was a hard and harsh return to reality for Wales’ talented crop of emerging youngsters on Sunday.

Ryan Giggs could not have asked for a more comfortable encounter in Cardiff on Thursday against an under-strength Republic of Ireland, where a host of his twinkle-eyed starlets wowed the watching masses.

But it was a far more arduous awakening in Denmark, against hosts who were expected to be under-prepared following a nightmarish period of preparation for their UEFA Nations League opener.

At one point it was envisioned a rag-tag bunch of lower league players would be drafted in for this fixture following an extraordinary row between the Danish FA and its elite players over commercial rights.

It had resulted in coach Age Hareide being told to stay at home rather than take charge of the side for their friendly on Wednesday against Slovakia.

In Trnava, a squad containing members of the Danish national futsal squad, as well as a YouTube freestyle football star, a student and a part-time salesman, were downed 3-0.

But while all of Wales are buying into the Giggs regime and the exciting new wave of talent he is ushering in, the return of Denmark’s tried and tested stars proved the new-look Dragons are not exactly on the money just yet.

Christian Eriksen and Kasper Schmeichel were back for Denmark.

Christian Eriksen and Kasper Schmeichel were back for Denmark.

Don’t take anything away from the performances of David Brooks, Connor Roberts, Chris Mepham and especially Ethan Ampadu against Ireland. As woeful as Martin O’Neill’s men were, you can only beat the opposition which is put in front of you.

And for international novices aged 22 (Roberts), 21 (Brooks), 20 (Mepham) and 17 (Ampadu), to play with such command in any environment was impressive.

Leeds United striker Tyler Roberts (19) and Manchester City academy product Matt Smith (18) also looked bright off the bench.

That’s without mentioning the Liverpool duo of Ben Woodburn (18) and Harry Wilson (21) who have already left impressions on the international stage.

For a squad so young (the average age of the starting XI versus Denmark was 25.5) – even with experienced stars such as Gareth Bale, Joe Allen and Aaron Ramsey around them – there are sure to be teething problems.

As much as everyone will have enjoyed the Irish romp, a stern test was what was required next. As breathtaking as they were going forward in Cardiff, Wales look like they will also be open defensively under Giggs, who has reverted back to a four-man unit in his early tenure – a shift from a solid five which predecessors Chris Coleman and Gary Speed championed.

And with such a shrewd operator in Christian Eriksen pulling the strings for Danish Dynamite, you can always expect fireworks.

The Tottenham schemer sparked the hosts into life when he was afforded too much space by Allen and Ampadu in the box to turn and fire in the opener midway through the first half, following a bright start from the visitors.

He burned the Dragons’ hopes of a comeback on the hour mark when tenacious teen Ampadu conceded a penalty – Eriksen rocketing the spot-kick past Wayne Hennessey, who in truth made several excellent stops to keep the scoreline respectable.

For all their issues in the build-up, Denmark welcomed back a clutch of well-known stars who took them to the last 16 of the World Cup.

Colossal captain Simon Kjaer, of Sevilla, tireless Ajax midfielder Lasse Schone, Borussia Dortmund anchorman Thomas Delaney, wiry RB Leipzig forward Yuusuf Poulsen and Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel all returned. And even though they started poorly, Denmark showed all their experience and nouse to strangle Wales into submission after taking a 2-0 lead.

So after firing into life on Thursday, Giggs young Dragons failed to scale the same heights on Sunday.

It is back to the drawing board for the Manchester United icon. But he must look at the bigger picture. He still has a blank canvas in front of him. It’s up to him whether it turns out to be a masterpiece or not.

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