FOOTBALL: Wales' battle to avoid humiliation

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The Independent Online
Success for Wales in the European championships is now to stay above Albania and so avoid the wooden spoon in Group Seven. It is that bad and that sad, with another comprehensive defeat, this time at the hands of Bulgaria, establishing a new low in the fortunes of this embattled football nation.

The latest crushing blow was compounded by the ignominy of an excessive physical response to the inevitable - which at times bordered on thuggery - and also by the despair for what lies ahead.

Wales have six more fixtures to see out, with no hope of qualifying for the 1996 finals and little sign that things will get better. They currently lie fifth of six, and it is hard to believe they were seeded second in their section at the start above Bulgaria, who scored three goals with consummate ease in Cardiff on Wednesday. Moldova and Georgia have already proved Wales' superiors, and even Albania were a tough nut to crack at home. And still there is Germany to come.

Attendances will fall below this week's disappointing 20,000 because there is no longer a novelty value in Vinnie Jones, and scarcely any other value in continuing to select him. Income will be reduced, and there will be little money to fund a wholesale revolution for the new manager who must surely now come in to replace Mike Smith.

Smith deserved sympathy. It has been a tortuous return to international football, but some of his selections have baffled, and he has not derived a positive response from his players.

There are prominent managers available to succeed him, but whether a Ron Atkinson or a Mike Walker, for example, would be prepared to take charge of a team over-reliant on its ageing stars with little coming through to replace them is questionable.

It is more likely that John Toshack will be asked to bring his tactical wit and international experience to bear for a second time when he returns from Spain for good in April.

Earlier this year, to the acute embarrassment of himself and the Football Association of Wales, he tried to do the job on a part-time basis while remaining with Real Sociedad, and departed after just one game.

Whether Toshack, or whoever it is to be, will be working alongside Alun Evans, the controversial chief executive of the FAW, is doubtful. Hounded by the Arms Park crowd - it was his head they were calling for and not Smith's - it is understood he repeated an offer to resign if the terms were right after the game.

Typical of their administrative disarray was the oversight which put both Jones and Mark Hughes in danger of missing the game just one hour before kick-off as they were without photographic ID because their passports had been mislaid.

they would have been prevented from playing by the Uefa observer, had the BBC not come to the rescue of Wales by reproducing stills of the players on their television monitors at the stadium.

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