Old-timer Hartson wants young guns to lift Wales

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The Independent Football

Whether this was a far from subtle ploy to lure Sven Goran Eriksson's multi-millionaires into a sense of security they would think far from false whatever the Wales line-up, could not be ascertained, although the words from the player who would otherwise be held up to embody all things defiant in the Celtic race suggests not.

"There were five or six boys at training today that I've never even seen before," said John Hartson, after Toshack had been forced to enlist a group of his Under-21 squad to make up his familiarly dwindling numbers. "Who knows, a few of those boys might be required and we must hope that one of them comes out a hero on the day. But we have to be realistic because there might be as many as seven changes to the side who played at Old Trafford.

"We are very much in a rebuilding process. We'd like a better performance and result than the last time but ... we've lost a lot of our top players and England are one of the favourites for the World Cup."

Many might consider it a blessing that only Hartson, Ryan Giggs, Simon Davies and Danny Gabbidon are left over from last October's encounter, a humiliation referred to in one Welsh newspaper as "the bloodiest 2-0 you'll see since Ali versus Bugner".

But when Hartson asks you to look down the quality of that team sheet you understand the Brecon Beacon of a task facing this inexperienced Wales: no Gary Speed (retired), no Craig Bellamy (injured), no Mark Pembridge (retired), no Mark Delaney (injured) - to name but four proven Premiership performers.

Instead, Toshack will have to throw in the likes of Sam Ricketts, the Swansea City 23-year-old fresh from non-League football and expected to keep out David Beckham; Richard Duffy, the Coventry 19-year-old expected to keep out Joe Cole; and Danny Coyne, the Burnley Reserves goalkeeper expected to keep out the whole of England. "Yes, it will be a very difficult day for us," the Celtic striker said. "With a bit of luck we could do something, but let's not start being unrealistic."

In any other week, in any other year, that would be some plea to make to a Welsh sporting public that is traditionally more expectant than your average maternity ward, but even here Hartson was prepared to throw an entire reservoir up the Dragons' nostrils.

"Yeah, there's a big buzz of excitement from the fans - it's been sold out for a year or more," the 30-year-old conceded. "But three-quarters of the Welsh crowd will be turning up to see the Rooneys, the Beckhams and the Lampards. Sure, they'll be going full of hope to see the English beat and all that, but they'll also be turning up to see the stars. And that's what those boys are - top-class stars."

At least Davies, the Everton midfielder, was issuing a cry that could, through the biggest megaphone at any rate, be described as rallying.

"Anything we can do to stop England we will do, because the last thing I want to see is them winning the World Cup," he said. "David Moyes has sent me here saying if we don't win, don't bother coming back. That's a bit demanding, but I know what he means."