By Graham Thomas in Doha
Dean Saunders has urged Wales manager Robert Page to ignore demands to axe Aaron Ramsey for the do-or-die World Cup clash against England.
Wales midfielder Ramsey – so often the beating heart of Welsh triumphs over the years – has been a shadow of himself at the tournament so far.
That has led to siren calls for him to be dumped by Page for the final group stage game, with either Joe Morrell, Jonny Williams, Dylan Levitt or Matthew Smith called in to replace him.
But 74-cap former Wales striker Saunders insists the clamour must be resisted for the match on Tuesday evening, which is live on S4C.
Saunders, who is working in Qatar as a media pundit, similarly rejects any idea Wales should bench Gareth Bale.
“I would definitely start with Aaron Ramsey,” said Saunders.
“The point is, if England decide to leave out Declan Rice, they can pick Phil Foden, or Jack Grealish, Jordan Henderson or Mason Mount in his place.
“We haven’t got the standard of player in reserve that we can say, ‘let’s just play him instead’.
“Look at the one goal we have scored so far. It was scored by Gareth Bale and made by Aaron Ramsey. I would definitely play both.”
Ramsey did provide the cross from which Bale was felled for the penalty that earned a 1-1 draw with the USA, but during the 2-0 defeat against Iran, Ramsey, who will be 32 next month, and 33-year-old Bale looked badly off the pace.
That may be a legacy of their lack of club action in recent months.
Bale came to the tournament having played just 36 minutes of football since September, while Ramsey had started just 10 league games this year.
Saunders added: “Normally, Bale and Ramsey don’t give the ball away and don’t get pulled out of shape.
“But the team was giving the ball away and that was pulling us all out of shape.”
But Saunders – who played in the Wales side that suffered World Cup qualification heartbreak in 1994 – insists far stranger things have happened in football than a Wales victory over England and a draw between Iran and the USA, the two results Wales will almost certainly require to make the knockout stages.
Un. Cam. Arall. 🏴
Heno. Tonight! 👊
📺 @S4C #Qatar2022 | #wal pic.twitter.com/4lkj0VZRYO
— S4C Chwaraeon 🏴 (@S4Cchwaraeon) November 29, 2022
“I’ve been in football a long time and I’ve seen almost everything,” added the former Wrexham manager.
“I’ve seen things which you just don’t expect to happen, which people say can’t happen.
“But, look, when you see Saudi Arabia beating Argentina, when you see England get beat 4-0 by Hungary recently, when you see teams who have not got a single player operating at a high level suddenly gel and dig in, as we’ve seen here already, then you have reasons to believe.
“Let’s be honest. If you line up these two teams, there are not many of this Welsh side getting into the England team.
“Certain things have to happen for Wales to win. England have to play below what they are capable of. If they play well, and we play well, then they will win.
“So, we have to play above ourselves and we also have to bring them down from their normal level. To do that, at least seven Wales players have to perform very well.
🗣 ROB PAGE
“We’ve just got to throw our full focus into our game and hopefully it goes for us” 🏴
Canolbwyntio ar y perfformiad yw’r nod yfory â 🤞 bydd e’n ddigon. #WAL v #ENG
📅 Yfory | Tomorrow
#Qatar2022 | @DylanEbz pic.twitter.com/ee5R341Mw3
— S4C Chwaraeon 🏴 (@S4Cchwaraeon) November 28, 2022
“The referee’s decisions have to go in our favour and we also need a bit of luck. If we get all those things happening, then we can win.”
Whatever outcome occurs, Saunders says the priority is for Wales to seize a historic opportunity.
“What a game to play in – England in the World Cup! If we win the game, we might go through!
“So, we have to look forward to this and enjoy it! This opportunity – to play against the old enemy at a World Cup finals, with a big prize at stake, might never come around again.
“The whole country will be behind us. A team together can always beat a side of individuals.
“And we have Gareth Bale. I know he was quiet against Iran and he didn’t produce that one decisive moment.
“But he can score any type of goal at any time in the game, so we have to keep believing.”
S4C – Tuesday, 6.00pm: Cwpan y Byd FIFA 2022 Qatar – Cymru v Lloegr
Live coverage of the match between Wales and England in the 2022 FIFA World Cup, from the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar.