Bellamy returns to swell Welsh mood of optimism

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The Independent Online

With their captain, Craig Bellamy, back to restore the zip and the zest in a system devised in his image it should all be so straightforward for Wales against Liechtenstein at the Millennium Stadium this evening. Except a long history of slip-ups confirms that "Wales" and "should be" do not always equate to the anticipated return.

Indeed, it was only five weeks ago that Azerbaijan arrived in Cardiff for their inevitable slaughter and proceeded to skip around the abattoir like a sheep with nine lives. Eventually the young substitute Sam Vokes located the jugular but it was a nerve-racking "eventually". Four days later the Azeri were held at home by Liechtenstein, which only goes to highlight the risk in negotiating today's stepping stone towards Wednesday's mountain in Germany. The visitors will be rather more than "the pub team" of which David Edwards so daftly talked in the week.

John Toshack was understandably infuriated with his midfielder's assessment of a country which may be the third smallest in Europe but which will still turn up with 10 professionals in their ranks. "We will not underestimate anyone and Liechtenstein will be a proud side, strong and physical," he declared yesterday. Nevertheless, the Wales manager exuded confidence and that was little wonder considering his team's last showing. The 2-1 defeat in Russia was too cruel on a display that reeked of potential. Indeed, with Bellamy present Wales would surely have left Moscow with something.

The striker is vital to his nation's cause because of his ability to play as the all-action lone striker, as well as the influence he has off the pitch with a squad brimming with teenagers.

"It is going to be hard to get out of this group with such powerful nations as Germany and Russia to overcome," Toshack said. "That is why we must beat Liechtenstein. Hopefully, Bellamy can inspire us to the victory we need. We have players in attack I feel can be the difference between the sides."

To this end, Toshack looks likely to use Jason Koumas in behind Bellamy with Tottenham's Gareth Bale, normally a left-back, moving upfield to maximise his attacking talents. In central defence, another injury-prone Hammer, James Collins, should make his first start for a year after knee surgery.

But it will be Bellamy the crowd will come to see and his pledge yesterday that he will not do a Ryan Giggs, a Gary Speed or even, whisper it, a Robbie Savage will only increase his popularity in his homeland. "International football will give me up before I quit international football," said the 29-year-old. "I have missed too many games for Wales to want to pack it in. Pulling on a Wales shirt is the greatest honour."

Wales (probable 4-4-1-1): Hennessey (Wolves); Gunter (Spurs), Collins (West Ham), Morgan (Peterborough), Ricketts (Hull); S Davies (Fulham), Fletcher (Crystal Palace), Edwards (Wolves), Bale (Spurs); Koumas (Wigan); Bellamy (West Ham).

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