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Football: Gould salutes unsung hero

NOT FOR the first time in foreign parts, Wales were made to regret the absence of Ryan Giggs from the team whose prospects of qualifying for the play-off stage of the European Championship took a heavy blow in Switzerland last week. Yet it was the withdrawal of another left-sided player, the less celebrated Darren Barnard, that Bobby Gould chose to pinpoint.

From Chelsea's reserves to Bristol City, on to Barnsley's struggle to remain in the Premiership and back to relative obscurity, it can scarcely be said that Barnard has carved a big reputation. It was only last year that the 27-year-old, German-born son of British parents first came to the attention of the Welsh FA, though his influence on the team was quickly apparent.

So many times has Giggs gone "missing" that the team have become expert in the practice of adaptation. They did of course win without him in Denmark, when Barnard really showed what he could lend from the left wing-back role. Gould said: "Against Denmark both goals came from Darren, and we missed him in Zurich."

For such an upbeat character, Gould cut a forlorn figure on the home journey. For all the wiles of Stephane Chapuisat, the scorer of both Swiss goals in their 2-0 win, the playmaking of Ciriaco Sforza and Stephane Henchoz's defensive command, this is no more than an ordinary Swiss team. The Welsh, handicapped by the loss of a woeful early goal and the departure before half-time of the injured goalkeeper Paul Jones, knew a great opportunity had been spurned.

The Easter sunshine, a perusal of the Group One table and a reminder that Italy had been held at home by Belarus, proved restorative, and the fighting talk soon returned."Of course I was down," Gould said. "We work very hard to achieve results and it hurts when we don't. If it doesn't you shouldn't be in the game."

He was "delighted" to learn of Italy's stumble. "Who knows what that will mean to the final shape of the group? All the calculations are hypothetical but it does mean that the Italians will be under pressure against us in Bologna in June."

Wales follow that hazardous journey with the "home" tie (at Anfield) with Denmark, two fixtures crucial to Wales' hopes and also to the manager's chances of staying at the helm beyond his present contract, which expires in December. "I want to stay on but I know that whatever happens to me the infrastructure for the future well-being of Welsh football is in place," added Gould.