Savage missed as Toshack accepts blame for defeat

Wales 0 Austria 2
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The Independent Online
The crowds were streaming through the exits long before the final whistle blew, but at least when it did blow the Millennium Stadium DJ acknowledged it with a grim sense of humour by playing Ultravox's Vienna.

Half-time: 0-0 Att: 47,760

The crowds were streaming through the exits long before the final whistle blew, but at least when it did blow the Millennium Stadium DJ acknowledged it with a grim sense of humour by playing Ultravox's Vienna.

"This means nothing to me," warbles Midge Ure in the song, and in one sense Wednesday's reverse fixture in the Austrian capital does indeed mean nothing to Wales.

With two points from five games in Group Six, they lie 10 points adrift of second-placed Poland and have no chance of making it to Germany next year. Even Pythagoras would flinch at trying to make a mathematical case.

In another sense, the midweek game means everything to Wales and their new manager, John Toshack, who might now feel liberated from any vague hopes of qualification and can start in earnest to rebuild for the future. And rebuild he must, as the nature of Saturday's defeat emphasised.

An analysis of Austria's goals highlights the problems. The first arrived shortly after Toshack replaced Simon Davies with Robert Earnshaw, thereby changing his experimental 4-2-3-1 to 4-4-2 with 15 minutes left. Shortly afterwards, Ryan Giggs lost possession in midfield, allowing Ivica Vastic to run free and score Austria's first goal. From being creator, Giggs had had to switch to a hold-up role and erred.

"I'll accept a large percentage of responsibility for the result," Toshack said. "The substitution was maybe not very intelligent. People lost a little bit of discipline and we were running into areas I did not particularly like. Maybe I would have left it as it was for a little bit longer."

The lack of an experienced ball-winning player in the centre - someone like the retired but never retiring Robbie Savage, for example - had been punished. Not that Toshack is in any mood to look to the past for solutions.

"Some players retired before I came and after I arrived one player has retired," he said. "These players have been an integral part of a side that has not won for 10 matches [in competitive games, stretching back two years] so it's not as if we are talking about players who have been super-successful."

Though Wales did create chances, including saved shots from Giggs and Davies, a fumbled penalty-box dribble by John Hartson and a poor, close-range header from Carl Robinson, there was no consistency and little flair except sporadic raids by Giggs and Craig Bellamy.

As Austria's Martin Stranzl had predicted before the match, Wales were undone by not being able to win the ball and use it meaningfully to feed their forward players.

The second goal showed the frailty of the home defence at this level of competition. It arose from a mix-up between Robert Page, who failed to clear, and Danny Gabbidon, who could only watch as Stranzl waltzed around him.

Toshack evidently feels that the central areas need most work. "We had to look at the midfield area but we had difficulties in there," he said. "From start to finish, if we are honest with ourselves, I feel they were probably a little bit stronger than us.

"Maybe a 2-0 scoreline exaggerated things just a little bit. You can talk about the Giggs opportunity, the save, the Simon Davies chance, the John Hartson chance, and Robinson looked to have had a good chance with a header in the first half. But overall we have to admit that they did have chances as well and they were probably fitter and stronger than us."

He added: "The midfield area is a problem. The two lads, Robinson and [Carl] Fletcher, have had decent seasons. But right from the beginning we looked a little short there. Maybe we lacked a little bit of belief, and Austria were strong and knowing this was their last chance and they took a grip there."

So to Wednesday. Anyone who still believes that a U-turn on Savage in the future under Toshack is still possible would be wise to take a lesson from pop history to pre-empt Toshack's response. As Joe Dolce sang as he famously prevented Ultravox's Vienna from reaching No 1 in the charts in 1981: "Ah, Shaddap-a You Face!"

Goals: Vastic, 82 (0-1); Stranzl 86 (0-2).

Wales (4-2-3-1): Coyne (Burnley); Delaney (Aston Villa), Gabbidon (Cardiff), Page (Coventry), Ricketts (Swansea); Fletcher (West Ham), Robinson (Sunderland); Davies (Tottenham), Bellamy (Celtic), Giggs (Manchester Utd); Hartson (Celtic). Substitutes: Earnshaw (West Brom) for Davies, 75.

Austria (4-4-2): Payer (Rapid Vienna); Dospel (Austria Magna), Ehmann (Graz AK), Pogatetz (Spartak Moscow), Katzer (Rapid Vienna); Kirchler (Pasching), Stranzl (Stuttgart), Aufhauser (Graz AK), Ivanschitz (Rapid Vienna); Haas (JEF United), Mayrleb (Pasching). Substitutes: Vastic (Austria Magna) for Haas, 77; Mair (Wacker Tirol) for Mayrleb, 87; Hieblinger (Kelag Kamten) for Ivanschitz.

Referee: P Allaerts (Belgium).

Booked: Wales: Fletcher, Page; Austria: Pogatetz, Katzer.

Attendance: 47,760.

Man of the match: Stranzl.