John Toshack, the Wales manager, sees the return of Craig Bellamy after a seven-month absence as key to the future of the national side. Toshack has had a difficult time since taking over from Mark Hughes a year ago and Bellamy's comeback in tonight's friendly in Cyprus is much welcomed.
Toshack has a shrinking pool of experienced players which he has regularly had to supplement with willing, but raw, youngsters and he will hand out the 11th new cap of his reign in the Tsirion Stadium when Ipswich's 21-year-old goalkeeper Lewis Price steps up from the Under-21s.
"Craig has missed the last five matches so we are pleased he is back," Toshack said. "His commitment to the cause has never been doubted but he has had problems with maintaining a level of fitness over a period of time. He is obviously an important player for us and we are happy to have him back, but it is unfortunate that it comes when Ryan Giggs is out with a fractured cheekbone.
"Those two together are vital to us, along with Simon Davies, and he's not here either because of his hamstring injury. That is the way it has been since I started. In 12 months I do feel that, regardless of all the continued absentees and retirements, we have managed to find a lot more players for the squad. Or maybe we had them and I did not realise."
Toshack has used 32 players in eight matches and the fact that the Under-21 coach Brian Flynn has also looked at 34 since February shows how thorough the new regime has been in search of the next generation of talent.
Yet there is no denying the lift that the return of Blackburn's striker Bellamy after knee trouble has had on the squad. Toshack added: "Craig is important for us, no question. He's always keen when he's here, sometimes you have to slow him down because he is always busy and buzzing.
"We are hoping now that as he gets older he will start to realise there are certain things he can concentrate on. Hopefully then he will stay fitter over a longer period of time. All teams have key players and Bellamy is the kind of player we need. We [also] have to push the kids; we will only be as good in the future as these younger players are."Reuse content