Football: A little Fulham at the heart of Wales

Trevor Haylett talks to Kit Symons, one half of a confident defensive duo
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The Independent Online
KEVIN KEEGAN'S favourite pair of international defenders - begging the pardon of Messrs Keown and Campbell - attempt another unlikely mission with Wales on Wednesday, hoping to bolster their reputations as stoppers who cannot stop scoring goals while bracing themselves for another busy night in their own penalty area.

Kit Symons and Chris Coleman have, like Keegan, momentarily abandoned Fulham's promotion parade in the Second Division to strive for success in the European Championships. It is a part-time pursuit offering full- time disappointment for those who have worn Welsh red over the past four decades but thanks to successive victories last October their normally forlorn prospects of qualification have undergone a significant facelift.

Bobby Gould's squad, players drawn in the main from the Nationwide League or the lower reaches of the Premiership, travel with some confidence to Switzerland having proved they could assemble a remarkable defensive operation in Copenhagen where Denmark fell to a late Craig Bellamy header. Four days later in Cardiff, Wales showed the ability to score enough goals to keep ahead of a fluent and problematical Belarus side.

The second-half strikes that turned another impending disappointment into a dramatic triumph and installed Wales alongside Italy at the head of the group arrived via Fulham's defensive combination and sent such a jolt of confidence through the team that the midweek assignment in Zurich finds them with morale at the highest level for some considerable time.

"We know Switzerland possess some skilful players and will be good technically but there's a great feeling in the squad at the moment and after the last two results we are hopeful of doing well again," said Symons, who has contributed nine goals to the promotion cause for his London club.

"Nobody's getting complacent but we've put ourselves in a decent position and we want to carry it on. The thing about this group is that all the teams, with the possible exception of Italy, look capable of taking points off each other."

Wales are again without Ryan Giggs (how can he continue to be called their best player when he hardly ever plays?) but working under Keegan has imbibed Symons with a permanent sense of optimism while Gould, whose own career prospects received a healthy fillip last autumn and halted the growing calls for his removal, is never lacking in positive thoughts himself.

Symons says he's never felt better about his game. "Last summer my career was at an all-time low because it had been a difficult last season with Manchester City but things could not have turned out better for me. It helped that Chris was already at Fulham because we have been friends since the youth team and it can only help us with our country that we are playing together every Saturday."

The promotion drive towards the First Division could have taken a wrong turning the minute their inspiration received the call from Lancaster Gate. Instead the opposite has proved to be the case and their run of eight wins and a draw in the succeeding nine fixtures leaves Keegan's team reaching for the proverbial slippers and cigar. "I think everyone at the club received a boost when he got the England job and that seems to have been reflected in the results," Symons said. "The best thing about playing for Kevin is his sheer enthusiasm, it rubs off on everyone else. We've worked hard this season but there is always plenty of laughter as well and I think that's the recipe for success.

"When Chris and I have a cup of tea together after training he often comes over for a chat and just recently he has been talking about the international scene and Wales' chances. If anything he seems more relaxed since taking the England job. If anybody can combine the two it is him."

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