Football: Wales leave their valuables behind

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WALES travelled light yesterday when they set off to make history as Moldova's first visitors for competitive football; a fact which only partly refers to their star players, those the people of the former Soviet Republic most wanted to see, missing and left behind.

The Welsh pioneers, relatively young, inexperienced and decidedly less skilled for the absence of Ian Rush, Mark Hughes and Ryan Giggs (all injured) and Dean Saunders (suspended), arrived last night with little more than their training gear and basic essentials, a consequence of the experience of the FA of Wales chief executive, Alun Evans.

On a reconnaisance mission in August to the Moldovan capital for a Uefa Cup tie hosted by Zimbru Chisinau, Evans endured discomfort and hardship and that dictated yesterday's travel plans for Wednesday's European Championship tie in acountry that became a republic of the Soviet Union in 1940 and three years ago celebrated its independence.

Evans describes it as the poorest European country he has known. 'There are few vehicles on the roads and those that are would not be passed roadworthy here,' he said. 'The coach taking the Honved team to the game defied description. Coming back I encountered the greatest problems. The authorities tried to take any loose currency off me and when I arrived home I discovered by bag had been tampered with and shoes and trousers had gone missing.'

The players have been told to leave jewellery and other valuables at home. No chances are being taken, the party also including an orthopaedic surgeon, three chefs and a two-ton food supply from 'cornflakes to pasta and steaks'.

The Welsh manager, Mike Smith, knows next to nothing about their opponents - they gained an unexpected single-goal victory against Georgia in their European bow last month - and even less about a nation which lies north-east of Romania and adjacent to the Ukraine with a population of 4m (compared with Wales' 2.5m).

The inhabitants, haunted by poverty, have also been blighted by civil war and only in August did the last of the Russian army units leave. They are keen followers of football, however, thanks in some measure to the influence of Leonid Brezhnev, the former Soviet Union president who when in charge of Moldova helped to promote the game there.

Yesterday's flight from Stansted was a five-hour journey and included a refuelling stop in Prague. 'Fuel is at a premium in Moldova,' Evans added. 'Petrol stations don't exist and when cars need petrol they have to take it from a tanker at the side of the road.'

Pat Bonner, the Celtic reserve goalkeeper, will captain the Republic of Ireland for the first time in tomorrow's Group Six European Championship qualifier against Liechtenstein in Dublin.

'I am thrilled. It's a great honour and a privilege for me,' Bonner said. Bonner, 34, has played only 45 minutes for the Celtic first team this season and that was in a pre- season friendly against Blackburn.