Football: Jones made Wales captain by popular demand

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The Independent Online
He was not even considered good enough for the squad last time, but five weeks on, Vinnie Jones has reclaimed his place with Wales and furthermore, returns to the side as captain. England go into this World Cup weekend with a recovering alcoholic as team leader, so why not a footballing warrior who has been dismissed 12 times in a chequered career?

Desperate situations call for desperate measures and at least Jones will ensure that Wales' commitment will be total in Eindhoven tonight when they attempt to revitalise their qualifying campaign by prising a point or more from a Dutch side which crushed them in Cardiff last month.

Jones owes his promotion to a vote among those surviving players Bobby Gould has taken to the Netherlands following a debilitating series of withdrawals. "We had a democratic vote and the players chose Vinnie," Gould said. "They knew who they wanted to lead them."

The manager admits that in some quarters the decision will be seen as a "bad day for football", although in Jones' defence, he cannot be accused of beating up anyone, at least not off the field.

"I've always said Vinnie was underrated, but we'll have to make sure his enthusiasm does not bubble out before he gets on to the pitch," Gould said.

It is Jones' sixth cap and another important career milestone for a player who seemingly has always been fighting a battle to prove himself against those who say he not only lacks the talent to play at the highest level, but that his machismo tendencies do the game a disservice.

"I have not been so emotional for a long time," said Jones, who owes his qualification to a Welsh grandfather and who bears a dragon tattooed on his chest. "That's how it makes you feel when your fellow professionals vote you their captain and leader."

Leaving aside the captaincy, it is not easy to justify Jones' inclusion when set alongside Gould's contention that Wales suffered in Cardiff because of a propensity to lose possession.

"We can't allow them to have as much of the ball as they had last time because they use it so well. It's backs to the wall stuff, but if we dig in and show character, then we can get a result."

The rest of the side will not be disclosed until just before kick-off. Apart from the regular captain, Barry Horne, Gould is deprived of Ryan Giggs, Chris Coleman and Nathan Blake. Mark Hughes is suspended and Ian Rush would appear to have been consigned to the history books.

A month ago, the Dutch were similarly compromised by a lengthy absentee list, although the calibre of their replacements meant they were able to win comfortably in the end after Wales, through the brilliance of Neville Southall, had defended Dean Saunders' early goal for almost an hour.

This time Dennis Bergkamp, Marc Overmars and Michael Reiziger are all available for selection, while Pierre Van Hooijdonk, the Celtic striker whose substitution and subsequent pair of goals swung the game, is expected to overcome a calf strain.

The class gap glaringly obvious at the Arms Park might come to look relatively narrow by nine o'clock this evening.


(at Philips stadium, Eindhoven; today, 7.0 GMT)

Group Seven

P W D L F A Pts

Wales 3 2 0 1 12 3 6

Belgium 2 2 0 0 5 1 6

Netherlands 1 1 0 0 3 1 3

Turkey 1 0 0 1 1 2 0

San Marino 3 0 0 3 0 14 0

RESULTS: 1996: 2 June: San Marino 0 Wales 5 (Melville 20, Hughes 32, 40, Giggs 50, Pembridge 85). 31 Aug: Belgium 2 (Degryse 11, Oliveira 36) Turkey 1 (Sergen 56); Wales 6 (Saunders 2, 75, Hughes 24, 54, Melville 34, Robinson 45) San Marino 0. 5 Oct: Wales 1 (Saunders 17) Netherlands 3 (Van Hooijdonk 72, 75, R de Boer 79). 9 Oct: San Marino 0 Belgium 3 (Verheyen 10, Nilis 20, 46).

FIXTURES: Today: Netherlands v Wales. Tomorrow: Turkey v San Marino. 14 Dec: Belgium v Netherlands. 1997: 20 Mar: Netherlands v San Marino. 29 Mar: Wales v Belgium. 2 Apr: Turkey v Netherlands. 30 Apr: Turkey v Belgium; San Marino v Netherlands. 7 June: Belgium v San Marino. 20 Aug: Turkey v Wales. 6 Sept: Netherlands v Belgium. 10 Sept: San Marino v Turkey. 11 Oct: Belgium v Wales; Netherlands v Turkey.