Hartson desperate to seize Wales' big moment

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The Independent Football

Now open the window again, stand back and, if your frames are wide enough, allow in John Hartson to explain exactly why Wales could still represent the coarsest salt. "I'd play against England on one leg," said the living, seething embodiment of Celtic defiance. "I'm desperate to play, I really am. Just to play against England and have the opportunity to beat them on our own turf - boy. John's been trying to play it all down, but this is the one to tell your kids about."

"John" is Toshack, the Wales manager whose seen-it-all eyes will no doubt roll on hearing his front-man's fiery call to the old Arms Park. The twice Real Madrid entrenador has made no secret of his belief that this is the last game he could do with right now, not least because even a victory would not amount to much more than exactly that - one victory. Hartson accepts this, but makes a case for the frenzied anticipation.

"It's hard for me to sit here and say if we beat England we're going to go and bleeding qualify for this and do this and do that, because we may not," the 30-year-old said. "In fact, we probably won't. But playing against England is incentive itself. Just being a part of that day will be huge for me and all the boys will feel the same way, especially the top boys."

Indeed, that is why Toshack will not be anticipating the unseemly rash of withdrawals this morning that almost always ruins the Welsh squad's complexion just as match-week begins. "Everyone who can be there will be, because this is England and we want to to put the Old Trafford result right," said the Parkhead marksman, painfully recalling the 2-0 "stuffing" in Manchester last October. "We were poor up there, England ran out really big winners. I wasn't at my fittest up there on my own, up against [Sol] Campbell and [Rio] Ferdinand, two of the best in the world. That was a difficult afternoon for me. We had some good results playing that sole-striker system. But any forward will tell you they'd much prefer someone up there alongsides to get on your knockdowns."

Whether this old-fashioned leader of the line is granted his running partner at the Millennium Stadium is doubtful, as Toshack leans towards packing a midfield that was mercilessly overrun against Gerrard and Co 11 months ago, an option made more likely by Craig Bellamy's injury. That thigh strain was sustained in training for Wales's commendable scoreless draw with Slovenia a fortnight ago and sparked Toshack's predecessor, Mark Hughes, to express his ironic disapproval of his Blackburn striker's international involvement.

It was also one more headline as the controversies arrived quickly and furiously for Toshack. On the morning of the friendly, the leading Welsh newspaper serialised a passage from Ryan Giggs's autobiography which revealed that the winger would often hurl abuse at the dressing room's television set on hearing Toshack's criticisms and "call him every name under the sun". It was obvious that none of these were "Gaffer", and as Giggs missed that game with a "chest infection", reports of his international demise were easily exaggerated as the Sparky-Tosh divisions widened and the senior players were said to be siding with the former.

"Total Tosh," suggested Hartson, keen to end speculation that Robbie Savage's continued absence is the tip of a rapidly thawing iceberg. "John has all our respect," he said. "He won Ryan over after Sparky left and now Ryan obviously respects him a great deal. You have to admire what John's done in the game. He leaves nothing to chance and is very astute tactically.

"It is one reason why we believe we can beat England; of course we do, there wouldn't be any point turning up other-wise. We have to impose ourselves, it's our home game and we have to get really stuck in.

"There's no real pressure on us, it's all on England after that Danish thumping. Sure, England can frighten you, just looking at the names in their squad. They have unbelievable quality all over the pitch. But they'll look at Giggs and a few more of our boys and think, 'Hang about, we can't be too confident'. They'll know where we can hurt them."

To someone of Hartson's bulk and renowned physicality that means everywhere, a truth he is fairly drooling over. "Yeah, we can make a statement," said the fearsome 6ft 2in, 15-stoner. "We haven't much else to look forward to."