Wales are still in the mix for qualification for the finals of Euro 2020, but for first time in this campaign, the outcome is no longer in their own hands. For Ryan Giggs, crunch time is almost here – for both himself and his team, as Kasey Rees reports.
Under the bright floodlights of a clear autumn night at the Cardiff City Stadium, in front of thousands of passionate home fans, Wales manager Ryan Giggs proved good on his vow to take this European qualification campaign to the final matches.
A 1-1- draw with Croatia leaves Wales still with a reasonable chance of qualification, although they are now depending on other results to fall in their favour.
The former Manchester United legend remains unbeaten at home as manager in this, his first major tournament campaign. He started with a win over Slovakia, went on to draw away against the same opponents, but has lost to both Hungary and Croatia away from home.
Despite a mixed campaign in terms of results – Wales have won two, drawn two and lost two – he remains optimistic about the outcome which will be determined next month with matches away to Azerbaijan and at home to Hungary.
“I am really pleased with how it has gone so far, the lads showed great quality tonight and worked hard to get the draw,” said Giggs.
“This is the best side I have had in terms of their character, they are always working hard and were happy to get the point.
“For me, it’s the first time I have been anywhere near naming the same team, which is good as everybody knows their jobs, but the physical aspect is really tough especially with players that are not playing regularly.
“So, I am really pleased with the lads, but whether it was my best camp I don’t know. But it is a step forward where I have been able to not change the team.”
The positive aspects of the Giggs era so far are that he is continuing what Gary Speed and Chris Coleman built – a dynamic environment where young players are given a chance to play at international level.
So far, throughout this campaign, he has given players like Daniel James a chance to step up.
The Manchester United winger has responded and now looks capable of threatening any opposition with his pace on the wing. With James and other young players – like the impressive substitute Joe Morrell – coming through the ranks, Giggs has given fans belief for the future.
Wales have two more games left to play in Group E which they must win in hope of gaining qualification to next year’s finals. In the context of needing something from the game, a draw with the World Cup runners-up should be considered a fantastic result.
The real lost opportunity so far, were those two summer defeats away to Croatia and particularly Hungary.
But Wales have made progress Wales under Giggs, without relying on many of the old guard heroes who got Wales to the semi-finals of Euro 2016.
The wider media seem to be remaining upbeat. BBC Wales journalist Mark Poyser feels most of the decisions Giggs has made have proved good ones.
He said: “I wouldn’t go as far as saying he is great, but he has done a lot better than people thought he would do.
“They are still in the mix to qualify despite last nights’ draw and have got a really good situation to qualify. If they win their last two games, he will be probably be in a really good position.
“Giggs have shown no fear so far, in terms of selection. When I was out in Slovakia, people were surprised that Ashley Williams wasn’t playing.
“But Tom Lockyer did a good job, Joe Rodon looked excellent and Kieffer Moore could perhaps be the striker Wales have been looking for.
“He’s given people a chance and they have taken it, and they are brave calls to break up the Euro 2016 guard. Doing that has paid off to some degree but some are always going to work out better than others.
“But for Wales to still be in with a chance to qualify with two games left is a very strong place to be in. Those two games, however, will determine how well Giggs is doing.
“If he gets Wales qualified it’s job done – fans will have to be behind him after taking the team to another major tournament and it will be wonderful for Wales and will be a massive achievement for him, too.”
Wales are currently on eight points in fourth place and relying on Slovakia to lose points when they face Croatia on the 16th November.
But despite being in a possible position to qualify, not all fans are behind Giggs.
Wales fan Wayne Devis, who travelled from Glasgow to be at last night’s game, thinks that the FAW rushed into turning to Giggs as Coleman’s replacement. He believes it was a big mistake.
“Giggs has been too defensive in this campaign,” he said.
“Being a former winger, I thought he would bring more attack to the side, but he hasn’t. There are games that we have just given away. Last Thursday against Slovakia, we gave it away, too, but that’s football.
“I am not a Giggs fan and never have been. When he played for Wales he only turned up when Fergie gave him the go-ahead.
“I think that good players don’t necessarily make good managers. When he was appointed over Osian Roberts, it was a kick in the teeth for Welsh fans.
“I would have preferred Osian as he has been there for years and was good at developing kids.
“For the FAW to give it to somebody who just has a big name in football is a waste of time. So, Giggs is not the man for us. He let Wales down as a player and now he is letting us down as a manager.”
Next up for Wales is a trip to Azerbaijan on the 16th November, before returning to the Cardiff City Stadium on the 19th November for their final home game of the campaign against Hungary.
Those results will determine whether Giggs is viewed as the right man to take Wales forward.
The mixed opinions about his tactics, his selections, and his overall management are likely to be finally swayed by whether or not he leads the team to another major tournament finals.
As always, it’s the results that count most.