THE accepted premise that Welsh football lacks depth, and will struggle when Southall, Rush, Hughes and Co retire, appeared a tenuous tenet at Cwmbran Stadium yesterday afternoon when the Under-21 side mounted such an impressive exhibition of attacking football that the final scoreline could easily have been of rugby, not tennis proportions.
Even taking into account the weakness of the opposition in this European Under-21 Championship Group Four tie, the display by Jimmy Shoulder's youngsters was of the highest order and must have pleased the watching Terry Yorath, as he tries to build a production line of talent suitable for senior service.
Cyprus started and concluded the scoring but were flattened in the intervening 75 minutes: Liverpool's Lee Jones recorded a first-half hat- trick, one better than his striking partner, John Hartson, of Luton. The Queen's Park Rangers defender, Karl Ready, rounded off the rout.
Ready, whose gangling physique belies his pace and control, kept the Welsh rearguard rock-steady in the teeth of some nippy Cypriot attacks, but a mistake by his club-mate and central defensive colleague, Alan McCarthy, allowed the visitors to take a surprise lead after barely four minutes. McCarthy's slip gave Marios Christodoulou an avenue towards a goal and he advanced before shooting past Martyn Margetson. Christodoulou's celebrations were extensive and threatened to include a lap of honour around Cwmbran's running track.
When the hugs and high-fives subsided, Wales swiftly went about their work, securing parity within three minutes and then accelerating ahead with a succession of delightful strikes. Jones completed the first leg of his hat-trick from Hartson's cross and by half-time Wales were over the horizon, Hartson, on his debut, and Jones, twice, beating Savvas Constantinou, the Cypriot goalkeeper.
Jones's career looked well established when Liverpool signed him from Wrexham for pounds 300,000, but a lack of first-team opportunities led to his current loan spell at Crewe. The 20-year-old has yet to make his mark at Gresty Road, but yesterday, with Wales geared towards servicing him, he appeared a strong prospect. His replacement during the second half did not end the deluge, Hartson heading a fifth and Ready netting from close range before Marius Agathocleous made it 6-2. A good week for the Welsh Under-21s: this win and Romania's defeat of Belgium has given them an outside chance of qualifying for the finals.
WALES UNDER-21: Margetson (Manchester City); Hughes (Bury), Robinson (Charlton), McCarthy, Ready (Queen's Park Rangers), Neilson (Newcastle), Kenworthy (Tranmere), Owen (Wrexham), Hartson (Luton), L Jones (Liverpool), Edwards (Bristol City). Substitutes: Coyne (Tranmere) for Margetson, h/t; Bird (Cardiff) for Jones, 58.
CYPRUS UNDER-21: Constantinou (Pezoporikos Larnaca); Frangos (EPA Larnaca), Sofokleous (Apollon Limassol), E Christofi (AEL Limassol), C Christofi (Apollon Limassol), Theodotou (EPA Larnaca), Aristocleous (Apoel Nicosia), H Nicolaou (Alki Larnaca), Andreou (Omonioa Nicosia), Christodoulou (AEL Limassol), Agathocleous (AEL Limassol). Substitutes: Hadjiconstanou (Apollon Limassol) for Frangos, 15; Kontas (Olympiakos Nicosia) for Aristocleous, 49.
Referee: N Djurhuis (Faroe Islands).Reuse content