Football: Wales look to bit parts for their breakthrough

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The Independent Online
WITHOUT their 'Fab Four', who have missed the chance to help create a little piece of history in this distant corner of the old USSR tonight, Wales are forced to rely on their supporting act to provide a winning song for Europe.

No Giggs, no Hughes, no Saunders, and no Rush - who, it was revealed yesterday, requires surgery on damaged knee ligaments and who will also almost certainly be out of the game in Georgia next month - means that a number of stand-in players are lured out of the wings and into the spotlight created by this first competitive international fixture to be staged by Moldova.

In all, Mike Smith has made five changes to the team who achieved a successful, though hardly convincing, start to the European Championship qualifying campaign against Albania. Of the defence, only Chris Coleman retains his position, although naturally the focus of attention will be on the attack because, depleted or not, it is a game Wales have to win to acquire points and confidence before they come up against Germany and Bulgaria.

Therein lies the concern, for to achieve a breakthrough against the first of the former Soviet republics they must face in Group Seven, the Welsh are sending relative peashooters into the rifle range. Between them, the attack and midfield have mustered only five goals in a total of 141 appearances for their country, while the strikers Ieuan Roberts and Nathan Blake have found the net only three times since the start of the season.

Behind them, Smith recalls Mark Bowen and Kit Symons and switches Adrian Williams into a central defensive role. The captain, Barry Horne, returns after injury and without a first-team outing behind him, while Mark Pembridge is the replacement for Jeremy Goss, who has a thigh strain.

It is a line-up heavy on experimentation as Wales attempt to find a side best equipped to take points off the principal forces later on. 'We have to get it right by the time we play Bulgaria in December' Smith said. 'We don't want to have to gamble in those games.'

Some say it was a gamble that failed when he chose not to pull his players out of last weekend's League programme, though he insists it was just as well that Ian Rush turned out for Liverpool against Aston Villa so that the severity of his problem became apparent. 'It is a recurring injury and he needs surgery. He could have broken down in a hard training session.'

The incapacitation suffered by Wales' most famous name is a disappointment to the impoverished people of the Moldovan capital, who have waited a long time for this opportunity. 'It is an emotional occasion for them and they will be passionate and fired up,' Smith said.

Ditto Wales, with individuals anxious to show they are capable performers in their own right and not mere auxiliaries to the stars. 'So far all the talk has been about those who are not with us, but the team I have named contains quality players and it is up to them to make the next selection difficult for me,' Smith said.