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Wales have made ‘significant’ progress since Gareth Bale retirement – Rob Page

25 Mar 2024 4 minute read
Wales manager Rob Page during a press conference at the Vale Resort. Photo Nick Potts/PA Wire.

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

Wales host Poland in a play-off final at Cardiff City Stadium on Tuesday, 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.

But 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.

Bale’s brilliance

“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.”

Euro 2016

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, but 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 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.”

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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