Hughes' focus on Wales despite rumours

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The Independent Football

The Wales manager, Mark Hughes, confirmed he is 100 per cent committed to the "most important two games in our history" after insisting he is not being lined up as the new Tottenham manager.

Hughes, who celebrates his 40th birthday on Saturday, has named a 28-man squad for the Euro 2004 play-off games against Russia next month and claims Wales can overcome the loss of Craig Bellamy to a knee injury.

"I have had no contact with Spurs and nor do I expect there to be any," Hughes said. "Do not get me wrong, it is flattering to be linked with a big club like Spurs, but I really see such speculation as recognition for the work I have done as Wales manager."

Hughes is concentrating on the two-legged play-off that could see Wales reach a major finals for the first time since 1958. And the Republic of Ireland manager, Brian Kerr, has been quick to offer his help, since Russia knocked his side out of Euro 2004 qualification.

"As soon as the draw was made I spoke to Brian and he told me that Russia are a big, strong, physical side and they use their height well, particularly to Dmitri Bulykin, getting high balls into the box," Hughes said.

"I know we have a few injury worries but I am hoping they will be okay. However, I do accept we will miss Craig as he is a top quality player who could have had a major impact in a big game like this."

Bellamy is out after a knee operation that will rule him out for four months. "It is disappointing to lose Craig, but I think he had got to the point where he needed to get his knee problems sorted out and he has done that. He will come back fitter and stronger in the new year," the Wales manager added.

Bellamy hopes to return to a side bound for Euro 2004, dashing claims he is considering his international future. "I will be back for Wales. I am too young to be thinking about retirement, I expect to be fit enough for the demands of Premiership and international football," Bellamy said.

"This problem is as a result of the cruciate knee operation four years ago. It left scar tissue, what with the wear and tear. The last few months have been murder, but I am much happier having had it done."

Hughes has named Simon Davies, Robbie Savage, Mark Pembridge and Robert Page in his squad despite all having injury worries. Cardiff's Rhys Weston has been left out after having a cartilage operation that will keep him out for a month, while Jason Koumas is back after serving a one-match suspension.

"There are other players in the squad with injury concerns, so this next week or so will be very important for them to see how they progress," Hughes said.

"There are no surprises in the squad. I think that one of the strength's of the set-up has been that the players know my system in every respect, from playing to our training regime.

"Rhys Weston is not likely to be fit in time for the games. Jason Koumas's return certainly gives me extra options."