Football: Ugly sisters can spoil Jamaica's ball

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Perhaps Rene Simoes could have chosen a more tactful comparison when he spoke of Jamaica's going to the World Cup finals this summer as a "Cinderella Dream". As anyone connected with Wales might mutter: "Even the Ugly Sisters got to the ball".

Never mind England's 30 years of hurt, Wales have been smarting since 1958. World Cups, European Championships they come and go without the principality getting to go to the party proper. Forty years ago they even had a decent rugby team.

So as Jamaica, under the guidance of the Brazilian Simoes, use tonight's friendly at Cardiff City's Ninian Park to prepare for France 98, Wales are looking for yet another dawn. The European Championship campaign is on their personal horizon and, as

usual they have got the nasty end of a bad draw, a group that includes Italy Denmark and Switzerland.

It pays to be hopeful to manage the Welsh and no one could fault Bobby Gould on that score. He spent last night in Cumbernauld, watching his B team play Scotland - although some of his attention was likely to have dwelt on his son, Jonathan, in the opposition goal - but he left a sea of optimism behind him.

"This side has some fine young players in it," John Hartson, who will win his 12th cap tonight, said "and I can see a good future. We have to go out and be positive. Wales have messed around too much over the years. Now is the time to start gettingit right."

A fresh start, is also Gould's message and to emphasise the fact that it will be an unfamiliar side that will take the field, mainly because injuries have deprived him of Ryan Giggs, Mark Hughes, Dean Saunders and Nathan Blake. But the manager's brio suggests that will provide an opportunity for someone else and attention will fall on Norwich City's 18-year-old striker Craig Bellamy, who will become the third youngest Welsh full international after Giggs and John Charles if he plays.

"What's pleasing is that he has been produced through our own youth system," Gould said. "He's been in the under-16s, under-18s and under-21s. He's going to be one for the future, and, surprisingly with the reputation he's acquired, he's come acrossas very shy in training with us."

Gould watched the Jamaicans beat Queen's Park Rangers at Loftus Road on Sunday and was impressed with their enthusiasm and technique, and that was just their crowd. "I wish I could take their support with me everywhere," he said. "They were fantastic and anybody going to Ninian Park is in for some night. The noise their fans made was amazing. It's going to be a cracking atmosphere."

Welsh supporters will be outnumbered at least two to one as the Football Association of Wales estimates as many as 10,000 Jamaican fans from all over Britain will be in the sell-out 14,600 crowd, which will be in contrast to the near empty Cardiff Arms Park of Wales' recent matches.

There will be congestion in the city, too, as many of Cardiff's night- clubs have been booked for reggae parties after the game. "Jamaicans love a good time," a spokesman for the Jamaican Trade Commission said. "It should be an all-night party the city will never forget. Many of our fans have never seen a football match before but they'll be there to welcome the players, and celebrate the first time we have qualified for the finals of the World Cup."

The Jamaicans may not be familiar to their own supporters but many of them will ring a bell with the Welsh contingent scattered among the steel bands. Wimbledon's Robbie Earle, who headed the winner at QPR, is likely to start while other English-based players include Marcus Gayle (Wimbledon), Frank Sinclair (Chelsea), Daryll Powell and Deon Burton (Derby), and Paul Hull and Fitroy Simpson Portsmouth).

If only their families had originated from Tiger instead of Montego Bay.