Bellamy clarion call helps Wales young guns to subdue France

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The Independent Online

A pep talk by Craig Bellamy helped inspire Wales Under-21s to a stunning triumph over France in their Uefa Championship qualifier in Cardiff.

The injured senior captain, unable to be involved with John Toshack's squad in Germany last night, instead made a special trip to Ninian Park on Tuesday night to support the Under-21 team before what was expecting to be a daunting Group 10 qualifier.

It certainly worked as the youngsters produced a stunning 4-2 triumph, by far their best victory since their first match at this level 32 years ago.

The main praise, however, went to the Under-21s manager, Brian Flynn, after his remarkable work at this level. And the former Wrexham and Swansea coach was perhaps the only Welshman who was not surprised by the victory over Germany.

He said: "This is what we have been working for. It did not surprise me. People forget what a really fine bunch of lads we have here. There was plenty of good individual performances, but it was a great all-round team display."

Wales beat the Netherlands twice and the French once back in the 80s and 90s when the likes of Ian Rush, Gary Speed and Mark Hughes were around.

But they have never beaten England or achieved anything on this scale and Toshack, from his Frankfurt hotel, was first on the phone to congratulate Flynn, whose unstinting work has produced a stream of players for the senior squad and a run of five Under-21 wins in seven games.

Wales have now lost only three of their last 14 games at this level and have a realistic chance of qualifying for the June 2009 finals in Sweden.

The French initially planned to appeal against the result because of a pre-match floodlight failure which saw the match played under just three pylons in Cardiff. But with the Uefa delegate having agreed that the match should go ahead, and the French happy to start the match, French federation officials eventually went home accepting the decision and result.

Ched Evans led the way with a hat-trick along with a Mark Bradley tap-in as the hosts rallied from 2-1 down with 10 minutes to go and the Rhyl-born Manchester City player admitted he was shocked by the nature of the victory.

The 18-year-old striker said: "If we continue to play like this then we have a very good chance of qualifying. It was a great match to be involved in, I enjoyed every minute. We were ahead early on but when the French got back to 2-1 up you start to feel that you are not going to be able to beat such a big nation. I did not really think we would come back but it shows how competitive we are. We never gave up.

"Maybe we could have thought that we would not get back at them, but this shows we have faith in ourselves and each other."

The Wales youngsters know they have a long way to go before they can start dreaming of Sweden. They are now third in Group 10 – two points behind the leaders, Romania, who they must now play twice – with a game in hand. Wales are also two points behind France with two games in hand.

Their next match is in Malta on 5 February, the day before the seniors play Norway in a friendly at Wrexham and with so many youngsters qualified for both teams, the selection of both squads will give Toshack and Flynn a few headaches.

Bosnia, who lost 2-1 in Malta on Tuesday night, are virtually out of contention, having also lost 4-0 to Wales on Saturday.

Wales travel to Bosnia on 26 March, also a scheduled week for a full international. Their final two games are a double-header against Romania, at home on 20 August and away on 10 September.

Even at that point, nobody qualifies automatically for Sweden. The 10 group winners and four best runners-up go into the hat for the play-offs next autumn, with each country playing a home and away tie. The seven winners then join hosts Sweden in June 2009 for the finals.

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