Football: Toshack stands by his passing principles

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The Independent Online
NOT EVERY international manager can get it right first time. Just ask John Toshack, this week's other newcomer to the game who, having endured a bruising defeat by Norway and the derision of a home crowd, might already be wondering whether it is really all worth it.

Through circumstances that were not of his making, Toshack, an outstanding player and club manager in Wales, now finds himself having to win over his public once more. The calls in support of Terry Yorath from a disgruntled Cardiff crowd were as dispiriting for the new regime as the response of his team to a different tactical approach was disappointing.

In a 20-minute second-half spell during which Norway scored their second and third goals, Wales were 'awful, groggy and overrun', their manager admitted yesterday. 'We were like a boxer who looks to his corner to throw the towel in.'

Toshack's belief in a patient passing method was severely examined as the Scandinavians, World Cup-bound and supremely confident, could easily have run up six.

Unable to provide a decent service to their strikers and with defenders prone to costly mistakes, it was little wonder that supporters quickly ran out of patience long before Chris Coleman headed Wales's solitary reply.

Afterwards, the critics weighed in. The television pundit and former Liverpool captain, Alan Hansen, said it was a 'Continental approach for Continental players'. More wounding still was the verdict of the Norwegian manager, Egil Olsen, a disciple of the Charles Hughes school of direct play. He said it was 'tragic to see a British team playing that way. Taking so many passes meant we could get our players back behind the ball to defend.'

In his own defence, Toshack can point to the absence of key players like Ryan Giggs and the need to try something different. 'For 36 years we have played one way and not qualified for anything. At Swansea we went through the divisions playing this way. I can never be part of a set-up where you just keep hitting long balls to the front men. I do believe the British player can play a passing game. Maybe we have to go one step back to take two forward. Certainly last night was a step back.'

Another setback for Wales came via yesterday's post, with England saying they would rather play Greece on the 17 May date which had been pencilled in for their first meeting at Wembley since 1983. An unhappy Alun Evans, the Welsh FA's chief executive, said: 'I don't know why England bothered to approach us in the first place. They were negotiating with Greece all the time and I wish they hadn't dragged us into it. I'm not very impressed with the manner in which this has been handled. We received a letter so presumably they did not think it important enough to inform us by fax or phone.'