Football: Gould's critics silenced by victory

European Championship: Wales and Northern Ireland upset the odds as Craig Brown relies on good luck against Estonia
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Denmark 1 Wales 2

THE "BOBBY GOULD Must Go" banners were happily rolled up and put aside, possibly for use another day. This was a rare occasion for celebration in the chequered history of Welsh football and even Robbie Savage could throw away a wing-back's shirt - on this occasion his own - towards a suddenly adoring public without fear of punitive action from the Wales manager.

No wonder when Gould came down to breakfast yesterday morning he enquired: "Did I dream that result last night?" It had been 13 years since Wales last won a competitive international of note away from home, never mind in Gould's unspectacular three-year reign, and on the face of it this game afforded them little hope of ending that run: Wales, ranked 108th in the world, against the World Cup quarter-finalists at the Parken stadium, where the Danes had not lost a competitive game in six years. And without Ryan Giggs and John Hartson. Gould must have been dreaming.

Yet his insistence that his management team had had "a gut feeling that we would achieve something this week" was not completely fanciful. Just three months on from the heady days of France 98 and a desperately close 3-2 defeat to Brazil, this was not the same Denmark team. Gone were the Laudrup brothers and four others from the starting line-up in Nantes, including perhaps most crucially on this night the imposing figure of Peter Schmeichel, who was injured.

His deputy, Mogens Krogh, had the sort of game that will help Schmeichel sleep easily at night in terms of his international future whatever threat he may be under at Manchester United from a new arrival.

But it was the performance of Wales' goalkeeper, Paul Jones, that was even more pertinent to this result. A goals-attempt count of 34-5 in favour of Denmark told the story. The Southampton goalkeeper has not been having the best of seasons - this was his first win - but he is always liable to have a game like this. Interestingly, Neville Southall, Wales' greatest- ever goalkeeper and now coach to the national squad, had looked at the pitch and the ball to be used and decided that Jones should adopt a Continental- style safety first policy. "We decided not to catch a lot of things and worry about the next one when it came in," Southall said.

"The adjustment that he made, made it one of the best goalkeeping displays that I've seen for a long time."

Those tactics were never better illustrated than when Jones pulled off a remarkable double save from Thomas Helveg in the second half when the pressure on the Wales goal was reaching an intolerable level. Luck was with him, too, never more so than in injury time when Soren Frederiksen saw a shot come back off a Welsh post. "If it had gone in it would have been unjust," said Jones, "because he brought it down with his hand - perhaps He was looking down kindly on us from up there."

For much of the time, though, only Martin Jorgensen, the Udinese midfielder, and Jan Heintze looked worthy successors to the great Danish players of the past and Jan Molby's contentious view beforehand that it was the worst Danish team in 25 years was not without some validity.

That, however, should not be allowed to detract from a performance that was full of the kind of virtues that we thought were long dead in Welsh football: namely courage, determination and resilience. When Frederiksen finally made pressure tell, forcing home a goal in the 57th minute that Wales might have avoided had not two of their players gone for the same header, Wales' response was swift and sure.

The delivery of Barnsley's Darren Barnard is of such a quality that Wales should continue to reap dividends beyond Saturday night. Here his free- kick was met with a simple header by the Wolves defender Adrian Williams which seemed to catch Krogh completely unawares.

The winner, with three minutes remaining, this time from a Barnard cross from the left, was truly the stuff of dreams, the 19-year-old substitute Craig Bellamy, who was only in the squad as a replacement for Hartson, scoring with a meticulously arrowed header that benefited from a kindly bounce which saw the ball break just inside the post.

How much all of this means to the future success of Welsh football, even its immediate future on Wednesday against Belarus (when captain Gary Speed will be suspended), is another matter, knowing Wales' knack for flattering to deceive. But at least this win has come on the back of a sound if unsuccessful performance against Italy.

For the moment Gould, who had the dignity and good sense not to indulge in triumphalism - even if it was one in the eye for his critics - is at one with his players. As Savage said: "It's taken us a long time to get there, but now we're together as a group."

Goals: Frederiksen (57) 1-0; Williams (59) 1-1; Bellamy (87) 1-2.

DENMARK (4-4-2): Krogh (Brondby); Tobiasen (Ajax), Rieper (Celtic), Hogh (Fenerbahce), Heintze (Bayer Leverkusen); Helveg (Milan), Steen Nielsen (Akademisk), Frandsen (Bolton Wanderers), Jorgensen (Udinese); Beck (Middlesbrough), Frederiksen (Aalborg). Substitutes: Gravesen (SV Hamburg) for Frandsen, 77; Sand (Brondby) for Beck, 66.

WALES (3-5-1-1): Jones (Southampton); Symons (Fulham), Williams (Wolves), Coleman (Fulham); Savage (Leicester City), Johnson (Nottingham Forest), Hughes (Southampton), Speed (Newcastle United), Barnard (Barnsley); Saunders (Sheffield United); Blake (Bolton Wanderers). Substitutes: Pembridge (Benfica) for Johnson, 64; Bellamy (Norwich City) for Blake, 70; Robinson (Charlton Athletic) for Saunders, 81.

Referee: S Piller (Hungary).

Bookings: Wales: Savage, Speed.

Attendance: 36,009.

Man of the match: Jones.