Football: Welsh spirit reflects well on Hughes

Belarus 1 Wales 2
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The Independent Online
GET IN first and hard. Seize the initiative and place the opposition immediately at a disadvantage. Mark Hughes never declined the opportunity to make an early impression in games and he has taken the same credo with him into management. This stirring fightback had even "old deadpan features" choking on emotion.

Wales' return to form in his first game as caretaker, their re-acquaintance with the art of goal-scoring after a three-match drought, makes it certain Hughes will be named Bobby Gould's successor in a permanent capacity after next month's game in Wrexham against Switzerland.

Such were the solid foundations that he laid in Minsk, so well did the players carry out their orders, that Football Association of Wales officials were left wondering what might have happened in this group had he taken charge earlier in the campaign.

As it is, Ryan Giggs' late winner means they still have a fighting chance of wresting the runners-up position (and the play-off ticket that carries) from Denmark, with the Swiss also in contention, but less so now having succumbed in Copenhagen. As long as the Danes do not take points in Italy on Wednesday, Wales would progress by beating Switzerland.

That would be an occasion that Hughes, the pugnacious midfield competitor, would relish. Those familiar bone-crushing tackles would go in hard and early. Yet he says that while he remains in charge it is impossible for him to perform the two roles which is something of a shame, because he is still one of his country's better performers.

Nevertheless he professed himself delighted with the response from his first team selection. "We gave them a platform on which to perform but they exceeded all our expectations," he said. "The feeling at the end was a great one and just thinking about it now makes me very emotional."

He should have no doubt about that. David Collins, Secretary General of the FAW, said: "Mark has been superb this week. To bond the team like that after disappointments against Denmark and Italy and to do it away from home says a great deal."

Belarus are no mugs and the way the Wales defence held firm initially and again late on reflected well on the organisational powers of Hughes and Eddie Niedzwiecki on the training field. They were helped when stirring shots from Alexsandr Chaika and the impressive Vasily Baranov hit the woodwork while later Paul Jones tipped another Baranov pile-driver against the bar. There was nothing to stop Baranov's sweetly struck left footer from finding the top corner after 30 minutes and Wales were back in familiar territory.

This time the response was positive, Dean Saunders making it goal number 22 on his 70th appearance after Gennadi Tumilovich had spilled Gary Speed's shot.

Then at the death there was Giggs scoring for his country for the first time in nearly two years. "It's important for players like Ryan to respect the people in charge," said Niedzwiecki. "We set out this week to treat the players in the manner we like to be treated and this was their response."

Goals: Baranov (30) 1-0; Saunders (42) 1-1; Giggs (86) 1-2.

BELARUS (4-4-2): Tumilovich (Zhemchuzhina Sochi); Tarlovsky (Alania Vladikavkaz), Lukhvich (Torpedo Moscow), Ostrovsky (Dynamo Moscow), Lavrik (Lokomotiv Moscow); Gurenko (Roma), Baranov (Spartak Moscow), Chaika (Alania Vladikavkaz), Orlovsky (Torpedo Moscow); Kulchiy (Dynamo Moscow), Makovsky (Baltika Kaliningrad). Substitute: Romashchenko (Dynamo Moscow) for Orlovsky, 60.

WALES (4-4-2): Jones (Southampton); Page (Watford), Melville, Coleman (both Fulham), Barnard (Barnsley); J Robinson (Charlton), Speed (Newcastle), Pembridge (Everton), Giggs (Manchester United); Saunders (Bradford City), Blake (Blackburn). Substitute: C Robinson (Wolves) for Pembridge, 81.

Referee: T Ovrebo (Norway). Bookings: Belarus: Ostrovski, Tumilovich, Lavrik. Wales: Pembridge.

Man of the match: Giggs

Attendance: 25,000.

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