Ryan Giggs under pressure as Wales boss but Gareth Bale back to best and Joe Rodon on the rise

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Wales take a break from their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign to play Belarus in a Cardiff friendly on Monday.

Here, PA takes a look at some of the talking points surrounding the game.

GIGGS BACKLASH

Wales might have beaten Azerbaijan on Friday to boost their Euro 2020 qualifying hopes but the manner of the performance left a lot to be desired.

Phone-in shows and social media went into overdrive, with manager Ryan Giggs bearing the brunt of the criticism. Giggs knows he must get more out of a talented squad if the gripes and groans are not to turn in to anything more substantial.

TACTICAL APPROACH

Giggs’ post-Azerbaijan briefing came across as muddled, saying his players were too hasty in their passing and in the next breath accusing them of being too slow. What is clear is that Wales are an unbalanced unit, with Giggs trying to shoehorn his rich attacking options into a team framework.

Midfield is a problematic department, too easy to play through, and Giggs might need to sacrifice a forward to exert more control in that crucial area.

BALE BACK TO HIS BEST

Where would Wales be without Gareth Bale? Out of the running for a Euro 2020 place almost certainly. Skipper Bale might be 30 now, but he showed he had lost none of his appetite against Azerbaijan with an energetic performance and a late winner.

Bale might not usually be expected to line up in a friendly. But with no weekend game because of a suspension at Real Madrid, his presence could boost what is expected to be a modest attendance.

RODON RISE

As well as three points and Bale’s performance against Azerbaijan, Giggs will have been heartened by the debut of Joe Rodon. The 21-year-old slotted into an inexperienced defence as if he had been playing there for some time.

Rodon, a confident ball-playing centre-back, has been a key component of Swansea’s climb to the top of the Championship this season and has a big future ahead of him.

GROUP BATTLES

It is Wales’ turn to sit out Group E action as the second half of Euro 2020 qualifying action kicks off. Wales are three points behind Croatia and Hungary and level with Slovakia in the race for a top-two spot.

So there will be one eye on games elsewhere, with Azerbaijan at home to Croatia and Hungary entertaining Slovakia. Wins for Croatia and Hungary would represent a blow to booking an automatic finals ticket.

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James Maddison insists no player expected senior England call-up after disappointing U21 Euros

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James Maddison insists no-one who was part of the disappointing European Under-21 Championships earlier in the summer expected to automatically be promoted into the senior set-up.

The Young Lions took just one point from three Group C games as they put in their worst tournament performance since 2013.

England suffered defeats to France and Romania before losing the lead three times to draw their final match with Croatia.

Three Lions boss Gareth Southgate has been keen to promote youngsters into the England team since he took charge – a trend that continued when he announced his 25-man squad for Saturday’s 4-0 win against Bulgaria and Tuesday’s match against Kosovo.

Maddison was one of three players from the Under-21s side that faltered in the tournament to be called up – with Mason Mount and Aaron Wan-Bissaka also included before the latter pulled out with a back injury.

Southgate said none of that squad should have taken progression as a given, saying last week: “They won’t get in just because they’re young. You know, I’ve felt some of the young ones in the summer were kind of: ‘well, we’re done with the under-21s now and the next step is the seniors, because that’s what happened last time’.”

And Maddison claims no-one involved in the tournament would have assumed a senior call-up was on the cards purely because they were already a part of the system.

James Maddison

“No-one expects to just be put into the senior squad,” Maddison, who was an unused substitute against Bulgaria on Saturday, said.

“Look at the talent, people playing in the Champions League-winning team, the Premier League-winning team. No-one expects to just come up like that.

“The pathway is obviously there for us and Gareth and the team have given us the best opportunity but we have still got to perform well enough to challenge the guys who are already here.

“So no-one expects, if you spoke to me, Mason or Aaron, no-one expects to be called up at all – the feeling you would get is ‘wow, I’m in’ rather than ‘I should be in because of the pathway’.

“It is a massive achievement when you get called up for England and I don’t think just because we were in the Under-21s that we expected to be put in because we know that is not the case, it would be naive to say that.”

Southgate, who was in Italy for the competition and spoke to Aidy Boothroyd’s squad at times during the group stages, felt the players may have shown a level of over-confidence in their ability – something Maddison concedes may well have been the case.

“We look back and maybe we were over-confident, it didn’t feel like it at the time,” he added.

“We were so motivated and hungry to do well and worked so hard so I can tell you categorically that it wasn’t the case because if there was even a slight hint of that before me and the other senior lads would have pulled people up on that because we wanted to do so well.

“But looking back, maybe we did think we were one of the best teams in the tournament and I think with the talent we had we weren’t stupid to say that. But we lost to Romania in a must-win game, so I don’t think we took it for granted – but it is something we have got to learn from.

“No-one was more disappointed than us lads but as soon as I got back to pre-season with Leicester I kind of put that to bed because I didn’t want to dwell on it for too long and think I wouldn’t get called up because of the failure we had in the summer.

“The way I felt after the Romania game I have never felt like that in football to be honest. We were out after two games and we went into the tournament trying to win it.”

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England boss Gareth Southgate lauds Harry Kane's elite mentality after hat-trick against Bulgaria

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Hat-trick hero: Harry Kane.

Gareth Southgate lauded Harry Kane’s elite mentality and superb finishing after the England captain netted a hat-trick in the comprehensive win against Bulgaria.

It continues to look like a case of when rather than if the Three Lions seal Euro 2020 qualification after their third Group A match ended in a third high-scoring win.

Five-goal hauls in March’s fixtures against the Czech Republic and Montenegro were followed by a 4-0 win against Bulgaria at a sold-out Wembley.

Kane was named man of the match after assisting Raheem Sterling and scoring the three others, with his first-half strike followed by a pair of penalties as he took his England tally to 25 goals in 40 appearances.

Kane’s treble took him ahead of Stan Mortensen and World Cup winner Sir Geoff Hurst in England’s all-time scoring chart, while Wayne Rooney’s record of 53 goals looks eminently achievable.

“I can only talk glowingly about that mentality to want to be a top player,” Southgate said. “Selfish isn’t the right word because he’s actually a very unselfish player.

“He works so hard for the team and he’s more than happy to drop into areas to leave space for others and play passes into others.

“But, when he gets his moment, then he just has an outstanding mindset and, technically, he’s a top, top finisher.

“But I go back to the fact that’s hours and hours of practice and if you talk to some of the other forwards in the squad, they would talk to you about how big an impression that has had on them and the way they practice when they go back to their clubs.

“Sometimes you can take part in finishing practices that can be a little bit half-hearted or not as focused as they might be – but he’s on it every single time.

“That’s where you get the transfer into the game.”

Manager Southgate lauded Kane’s “supreme temperament and technique” and also praised Sterling.

“I thought that he was outstanding, in the first half in particular where it was difficult to find space,” he said. “We were a little slow moving the ball.

“I didn’t think we had enough runs in behind but he was a constant threat throughout that period and his willingness to work without the ball to go and press and win the ball back for the first goal set absolutely the right tone for the team.

“So he’ll probably have the hump that he’s only got one today because his mindset has shifted so much towards that desire to score goals.

“Two years ago when we were working with him he was still a dangerous player but he just didn’t have that same desire to get into those areas and that ruthlessness in front of goal or that mindset of disappointment when he doesn’t score.

“And I am delighted for him because he has for such a long time been such an important part of our team and what we do.

“Now he’s reaping the personal gain of the goals and also the acknowledgement publicly that he should get.”

Kane and Sterling could get the chance to grab more goals in Tuesday’s Euro 2020 qualifier against Kosovo, even if it is likely to be a tougher challenge.

“I think Tuesday’s game will be completely different by the way,” Southgate said.

“I think that they are a really good side, so we have not had the tight, tense matches that the Nations League provided as of yet, that really we learnt so much more from.

“So, therefore, we’ve got to do that in training and the challenge of training has got to be so high that we learn from those moments and we can see what the players are capable of. ”

Meanwhile, Bulgaria counterpart Krasimir Balakov lauded Kane as “one of the best in the world” and had no argument with the result, even if individual errors left him frustrated.

“Before the game at the press conference (on Friday), I said that there is an enormous difference in the levels of the two teams,” the head coach said.

“We were aware that England are an extremely good side and that’s why we wanted to be as compact as possible.

“But I think all the four goals were our individual results, even though I think the result was fair.”

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