By Rob Cole
Welsh football’s national team will make an emotional return to the Principality Stadium on Thursday when they meet Spain in a friendly.
And one person who can’t wait to bridge the seven year gap since the last game, against England on 26 March, 2011, is Ryan Giggs. These days the Wales team manager, he enjoyed some great days in the national team colours and those of Manchester United at the Principality Stadium.
He scored the first Welsh goal at the stadium in the opening football match against Finland, played in the famous win over Italy and won the FA Cup, League Cup and Community Shield titles there with Manchester United.
“I get feedback from friends who’ve been there for Cup finals and who tell me it was a fantastic experience for them. It is a stadium that is in the middle of the city, the roof can be closed and the atmosphere is great,” said Giggs.
“It is a special place. I still get goosebumps now thinking about the win there over Italy – it’s one of those stadiums where you do get that and the players rise to that.”
Wales have played 35 international matches at the traditional home of Welsh rugby, having previously played 20 times at the old National Ground, Cardiff Arms Park (1989-1997) and a further six at the original Cardiff Arms Park (1896-1910).
The venue for Olympic football in 2012, and the Uefa Champions League final between Real Madrid and Juventus in 2017, the Principality Stadium will now welcome home the Welsh football team when they take on the former European and World champions.
“It’s just assessing every game differently,” said Giggs. “I recognise we’ve got a fantastic record at the Cardiff City Stadium, but we just felt this game is a little bit different.
“We wanted to freshen it up, but we’re not dismissing playing in Swansea and we’re also monitoring Wrexham, because we’ve got a fantastic record there over the years there.
“We have all these options we look at, and yes, Cardiff is our home, but every game we’re looking forward because we need different options as well.
“It was always one of my frustrations when we had to play in an empty stadium at the Principality. You’d wonder why we weren’t playing at Ninian Park and making it as difficult as possible for the opposition.
“We’ve now got that at Cardiff City Stadium, but you can’t stand still. You always have to look at the different options, knowing that we have got a brilliant stadium where the players love playing.
“It’s a fantastic situation to be in where we have so many options. That’s what we want. Again, recognising that it is Spain, we hope to get more fans, and I think we will get more fans than you can fit at Cardiff, so it made sense at the time to do that.”
With more than 40,000 tickets for the game already sold the gate for Thursday night is already beyond the capacity of the Cardiff City Stadium. Will it be another famous night like those games where Wales beat Germany and Italy in the past?
“It was a brilliant performance against a very good team Italian at the time,” recalled Giggs. “Now I want to carry on the good work that Chris Coleman did over the last few years and produce a winning team, a team I would want to watch.
“I want people to turn up not just because the Principality is a great stadium, but because of the team. We have talented players, a good balance of youth and experience, but ultimately you need to win.
“We don’t just want to turn up. We are not expected to win this game against Spain, but if we play at our best we have the capacity to make the game competitive and that’s what I want to see.
“I suppose it would be a major achievement to get a full house at the Principality Stadium. If you can do that then you are going to be producing a team that is not only winning, but entertaining. That’s what I want to do.”