Czech Republic 2 Wales 1: Toshack laments Czechs' last-gasp pay-off

Click to follow
The Independent Football

The gut reactions of a stream of Wales players to a late and contentious defeat by the Czech Republic read like snatches of reviews on a film poster. They ranged from "Another hard luck story" (Ryan Giggs), through "Unbelievable" (Paul Jones), to the all-too-apposite "A kick in the balls" (Robert Earnshaw).

To the Welsh, it felt like a disaster movie - or a sequel to one in which they have featured many times before - with the happy ending being shredded by the unsung substitute David Lafata's second disputed goal in the final scene.

Wales had entered the 89th minute on course for a well-merited draw. With home fixtures against Slovakia and Cyprus next month, they could have launched their Euro 2008 qualifying campaign with a promising seven points out of nine.

Suddenly, they were reduced to playing catch-up from the start of Group D. No sooner had the public-address announcer illegally whipped up a crowd still smarting from Wales' equaliser than Lafata marked his debut with the winner, but only after the Czechs had taken a free-kick with a rolling ball.

John Toshack seethed about the incompetence of the referee's assistant, who was "not up to the job". Compounding the air of familiar futility, a Football Association of Wales spokesman added: "We'll complain about the Tannoy business, but they'll probably be fined £500 and that'll be the end of it."

Wales, who now face Brazil in a friendly at Tottenham tomorrow while the Czechs, Slovaks and Germans have an opportunity to open a six-point gap on them, were justified in bemoaning their misfortune. However, Toshack's team were themselves the beneficiaries of a hapless own goal when Martin Jiranek turned in David Cotterill's cut-back. So when anguish gives way to analysis, the manager's priority must be to forget luck and examine those aspects he can influence.

The obvious place to start is the goalkeeping position. Jones, who hits 40 next April, betrayed a lack of mobility that was in stark contrast with the athleticism of Danny Gabbidon and the others guarding him. The former farmer could do little about the winner, a scuffed shot by Lafata, but he punched weakly when he might even have caught the ball in the build-up to the first goal, which the same player headed in from an offside position.

With his experience, Jones could also have done more to push out a back line that included the Derbyshire-born Lewin Nyatanga, just 18 and making his first competitive appearance.

When Wales were weathering the early pressure orchestrated by Tomas Rosicky, Jan Koller was winning headers 25 yards out. After the break the Welsh defended so deep that the 6ft 8in forward was contesting balls inside their penalty area, helping to create the momentum that would turn the 24-year-old Lafata from late call-up into national hero.

The latter status awaited Craig Bellamy as he twice raced on to passes by Giggs with the game goalless. On the first occasion he tried to round Petr Cech, saw the plunging goalkeeper flick the ball wide of goal and then shot into the side-netting. "I have to show more imagination to beat him," admitted the Liverpool striker, who had spent the previous 24 hours laid up with a high temperature.

Bellamy later struck a post, although he should not be unduly self-critical. Most players would not have had the pace to break into such positions in the first place.

It was, of course, more than mistakes or misses that cost Wales. A youthful side, with a few obvious exceptions, they must learn not to relinquish possession so easily, to select passes more perceptively and to close games off when they achieve parity.

Yet there are 11 matches left, as Giggs noted, again sounding as if he were reading from an old script, and to match one of Europe's better sides for so long is a measure of progress.

Czech Republic (4-4-2): Cech (Chelsea); Ujfalusi (Fiorentina), Jiranek (Spartak Moscow), Rozehnal (Paris St-Germain), Jankulovski (Milan); Stajner (Hannover 96), Rosicky (Arsenal), Galasek (Nuremberg), Plasil (Monaco); Kulic (Mlada Boleslav), Koller (Monaco). Substitutes used: Sionko (Rangers) for Stajner, h-t; Lafata (Jablonec) for Kulic, 75; Kovac (Spartak Moscow) for Galasek, 87.

Wales (5-3-1-1): Jones (QPR); Delaney (Aston Villa), Collins, Gabbidon (both West Ham), Nyatanga (Derby), Ricketts (Hull); Davies (Everton), Fletcher (Crystal Palace), Robinson (Norwich); Giggs (Manchester United); Bellamy (Liverpool). Substitutes used: Ledley (Cardiff) for Fletcher, h-t; Cotterill (Wigan) for Delaney, 79; Earnshaw (Norwich) for Ricketts, 79.

Referee: J Eriksson (Sweden).

Booked: Wales: Robinson.

Man of the match: Gabbidon.