Young Blood Has Put Wales On Verge Of Another Euro Dream, Says Rob Page

CARDIFF, WALES - MARCH 21: David Brooks of Wales celebrates with his team mates after scoring a goal to make it 1-0 during the UEFA EURO 2024 Play-Offs Semi-final between Wales and Finland at Cardiff City Stadium on March 21, 2024 in Cardiff, Wales. (Photo by James Baylis - AMA/Getty Images)

Young Blood Has Put Wales On Verge Of Another Euro Dream, Says Rob Page


By Paul Jones

Rob Page has admitted the World Cup in Qatar was an eye-opener that convinced him Wales needed younger, more athletic players if they were to make the Euro 2024 finals.

That realisation could pay significant reward on Tuesday night when Wales host Poland in a play-off final at Cardiff City Stadium, with a place in Germany this summer at stake.

Victory would see Wales play at a third successive European Championship and a fourth major tournament out of five after qualifying for the 2022 World Cup.

Manager Page, who took the reins from Ryan Giggs in November 2020, has focused on introducing younger players over the past year or so.

Ethan Ampadu, 23, and 19-year-old Jordan James form the central midfield axis, while the likes of Brennan Johnson, Daniel James and Neco Williams also provide pace and energy.

“We’re in a healthier position now with regards to the age and the legs we’ve got on the pitch,” said Page.

“Did the gap between the semi-final and final (March to June) pre-World Cup play-offs help us? Absolutely.

“Having younger legs doesn’t guarantee positive results, but it gives you the best opportunity.

“Athleticism was one of the biggest things we took from the World Cup. Seeing some of the teams – Canada, Morocco, the USA – their midfield three was athletic.”

Page believes Wales have come “a long way” since the retirement of Gareth Bale to be within one win of reaching Euro 2024.

This time Wales would achieve qualification without talismanic former captain Bale, their record caps holder and goalscorer who retired a few months before the start of Euro 2024 qualifying in January 2023.

“Look back to the semi-final and final before the World Cup and Gareth scored the three goals,” said boss Page, recalling Bale’s brilliance in the play-offs that guided Wales to Qatar.

“We had one of the world’s best footballers and it shows how far we’ve come in a short space of time.

“We are only one tournament past Gareth’s retirement and one win away from qualifying.

“We’re a country where, if we can be there or thereabouts at the end of the campaign to qualify, while we’re still in this transition of introducing young players without some of the world-class senior players we’ve had, then we’re in a good place.

“That’s where we are at this time and it’s quite a significant move. It shows the strength in depth and quality we’ve got coming through.”

Defender Ben Davies and goalkeeper Danny Ward will start against Poland and remain from Euro 2016, when Wales reached the semi-finals at their first major tournament since the 1958 World Cup.

Aaron Ramsey and Wayne Hennessey, two more Euro 2016 survivors, will be on the bench.

Poland booked their final spot with a 5-1 thrashing of Estonia in Warsaw when the unfancied visitors were hampered by an early red card.

The only surprise was that Barcelona striker Robert Lewandowski failed to add to his tally of 82 international goals.

Poland often laboured in Euro 2024 qualifying, losing three of their eight games and finishing third behind Albania and the Czech Republic.

Page said: “We know they’ve got an abundance of quality. They’ve got a new manager (Michal Probierz) and they’ve had some positive results since.

“But they’re in the play-offs for a reason. They would have been favourites to qualify and we’ll take note of that.”

Penalties will determine the winner if the contest is not settled after 120 minutes and Page said his squad had practised taking spot-kicks.

He said: “We’d be stupid not to, we’d be ignorant to ignore that.

“We’ve done some work on it, of course, but it doesn’t take away our confidence to get a positive result.”

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