Page banks on youth as Wales target Euro 2024 spot in post-Bale era

AFP , Monday 25 Mar 2024

Wales manager Rob Page says the team have come "a long way" since the retirement of Gareth Bale as they prepare to host Poland in a play-off final on Tuesday with a place at Euro 2024 at stake.

Rob Page
Wales manager Rob Page meets the media during a press conference ahead of Tuesday s EURO 2024 soccer play-off match against Poland, at the Vale Resort, Hensol, Wales, Monday March 25, 2024. AFP


Victory in Cardiff would take Wales to a third successive European Championship and a fourth major tournament out of five after they qualified for the 2022 World Cup.

But this time they are without talismanic former captain Bale, their record caps holder and goalscorer, who retired shortly before the start of Euro 2024 qualifying, in January 2023.

"We had one of the world's best footballers and it shows how far we've come in a short space of time," said Page, whose team beat Finland 4-1 in their play-off semi-final last week.

"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."

A clutch of players remain from the squad that reached the semi-finals at Euro 2016 in Wales's first major tournament since the 1958 World Cup, including defender Ben Davies and midfielder Aaron Ramsey.

But Page has focused on introducing younger players over the past year. Ethan Ampadu, 23, and 19-year-old Jordan James form the midfield axis while Brennan Johnson, Daniel James and Neco Williams also provide pace and energy.

"Having younger legs doesn't guarantee positive results, but it gives you the best opportunity," Page told reporters on Monday.

"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, featuring star striker Robert Lewandowski, booked their play-off final spot with a 5-1 hammering of Estonia in Warsaw, where the unfancied visitors were hampered by an early red card.

"We know they've got an abundance of quality," said Page. "They've got a new manager (Michal Probierz) and they've had some positive results since (their qualifying campaign).

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

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