Bellamy back in spotlight but Wales still lack fizz
Wales 2 Liechtenstein 0
Sunday 12 October 2008
Liechtenstein, that "pub team", as one of their opponents referred to them daftly in the build-up, were duly dispatched here yesterday evening. But this was a decidedly flat performance by Wales, who must relocate their sparkle before Wednesday's examination in Germany. Otherwise it truly could be a long evening on licensed premises for any Welsh fan not making the trip.
In fairness to John Toshack's men, they are never at their best when having to take the game to a side whose ambition does not extend past the halfway line. And there were a few positives, chiefly in seeing Craig Bellamy, their captain and inspiration, in his first competitive international in a year. On a "going" night the 29-year-old would have had a hat-trick. This was not a "going" night for individual or country.
Still, two went in and disaster was averted. The seventh-smallest country in the world even had a couple of chances of their own. But anything other than a home victory would have been a travesty. Sloppy in the first half, Wales were in full control of the second and would have scored more but for a stirring performance by the goalkeeper Peter Jehle. "Keepers always seem to end up as the man of the match when they have played us recently," said Toshack, thinking back to the last-gasp win against Azerbaijan which kick-started this World Cup campaign.
Indeed, there were many similarities between the two fixtures, although Wales's two boy-wonder full-backs, Gareth Bale and Chris Gunter, did not live up to their billing. Neither did Jason Koumas, who has rarely been so quiet. Yet maybe the biggest concern for Wales was their third missed penalty in as many games. "It didn't help that Bellamy told everyone in the morning papers he was going to stick it to the left," said Toshack. His laughter no doubt concealed a genuine worry. He will take comfort in the knowledge that Bellamy is not the type to let it happen again.
With three minutes gone yesterday the returning hero turned in the area and curled in a left-footer which was destined for the top corner. Jehle managed to get a fingertip to it and the crossbar did the rest.
Bellamy came close again in the 22nd minute but with the clock counting down to the break the frustration brewed as Wales struggled to connect with their passes. But then, in the 41st minute, up stepped David Edwards – he of the "pub team" slur – to convert Simon Davies's neat pull-back.
Wales were on their way, and when they were awarded the penalty two minutes later, for a crude trip from Martin Buchel on Bale, it appeared they were motoring. Yet Bellamy failed just as Koumas did against the Azeri and Bale did in Russia.
Seven minutes after the restart, Thomas Vejlgaard seemed certain to point to the spot again, when Edwards was upended by Fabio D'Elia. But the Danish referee did not, perhaps out of sympathy – to Wales, not Liechtenstein. As it was, the floodgates refused to open thanks to more Wales shoddiness in front of goal and the occasional special moment from Jehle.
The most special came in the 70th minute when he somehow turned away Bellamy's point-blank shot. There appeared no further way through. But with 10 minutes left the substitute Ched Evans put his head to a corner and a huge deflection off the captain, Mario Flick, gave the scoreline a more pleasing look. Despite this unconvincing display, Wales can take heart.
As Bellamy regains his match fitness and other senior players leap off their own treatment tables, they will surely improve and after the mountain in Mönchengladbach there will be time to regroup. With two wins from three and an undeserved defeat in Russia this has been anything but a ruinous beginning.
Substitutes: Wales: Evans for Vokes (51), Robinson for Fletcher (56), Collins for Bellamy (82). Liechtenstein: Christen for Ritzberger (67), Buchel for Polverino (80).
Referee: Thomas Vejlgaard (Denmark)
Man of the match: Jehle
Match rating: 5/10
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