Football: Gould dispels talk of rift with Speed

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GARY SPEED will captain Wales in their European Championship qualifier at Anfield tomorrow night, dispelling reports that an unbridgeable rift had opened between him and Bobby Gould.

The Welsh manager confirmed that "words were expressed" after Wales lost 4-0 to Tunisia immediately before the World Cup finals but could not have been more emphatic in denying it had harmed their relationship. "Gary is a forthright young man with opinions," Gould said, "Which at times he feels he wants to put forward for the benefit of the team. I remember a dark haired centre-forward who was just the same. I voiced my opinions, too.

"You knock things backwards and forwards, of course you do. If you've got opinions you should voice them as long as you do it at the right times and through the right channels. Words were expressed but it's a dead subject as far as I and the Welsh FA are concerned."

If Speed had an axe to grind yesterday it was over a venue made necessary because the National Stadium in Cardiff is being rebuilt. He would have preferred a Welsh ground such as Colwyn Bay or Merthyr Tydfil but economics ruled that out.

"I think it makes our task more difficult," he said. "Most of our players have played there before but I think it will suit the Italians more than us and they will get better support from Italian nationals based in this country. They are a very strong team but we've got battling qualities and if we get in among them we could cause an upset."

Mick McCarthy, the Republic of Ireland manager, warned yesterday a weakened Croatia will still set his team a major test of their qualification ambitions at Lansdowne Road tomorrow.

Croatia, who finished third in France, their first World Cup campaign, flew into Dublin minus five big names. Davor Suker, the top-scorer at France '98, Robert Prosinecki, Slaven Bilic of Everton and Goram Vlaovic are missing, along with the Lazio striker Alen Boksic, whose knee injury, which prevented him going to the finals, is still a problem.

However, McCarthy insisted: "Croatia still have a lot of other excellent players - Boban, Jarni and Stanic to name just three." McCarthy is missing only the striker Niall Quinn and the suspended David Connolly from his squad and could recall Tony Cascarino. That would mean an "old and new" pairing up front with Cascarino, who was 36 earlier this week, partnering the 18-year-old Wolves forward Robbie Keane.

Keith Gillespie is ready to make his comeback and prove to the Newcastle manager, Ruud Gullit, that he deserves a new contract. Gillespie is set to play for Northern Ireland against Turkey in tomorrow's qualifier in Istanbul after five months out with ankle trouble.