Savage puts boot into wounded Wales

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The Independent Football

Talk about kicking your own dog when it is down. Robbie Savage went on national radio yesterday predicting his country will be "hammered" by Germany at the Millennium Stadium this evening. A wise and brave man, is that Savage...

Rarely has a Wales team gone into an international with such a sense of foreboding spurring them ever downward. Saturday's 2-0 home defeat to Finland saw captain and manager writing off their chances in Group Four and, barring the starry-eyed in the squad, few in the country have felt like arguing with their reasoning.

Up until yesterday only 20,000 tickets have been sold for their supposed glamour tie in World Cup qualifying and the criticisms of John Toshack have duly been raging hard in the home media. Yesterday, he was obliged to answer the condemnation of his "negative" formation against the Finns and to deal with the inevitable comparison with the high-flying Northern Ireland.

"More direct like Northern Ireland?" barked Toshack. "What does that mean? 'Up and at 'em?' Well I've never been totally sure about that or been identified with. 'A big man up front?' Who? We do not have too much in that department."

The 60-year-old went on to make the fair point that "the team selected was very much the same side as we have fielded in previous group matches", when all his young outfit received was praised. Toshack has never been in the habit of bowing to external pressures and either a five-man defence or a five-man midfield is expected against Germany. Yet he did promise personnel changes and the exciting Arsenal teenager Aaron Ramsey should make his competitive debut, which at least might allow the lone striker Craig Bellamy to chase something more worthwhile than shadows.

Joachim Löw is certainly anticipating nothing less dangerous than a backlash. "To me Wales are like a boxer who has been knocked down – a wounded fighter who wants to retaliate," said the manager of the visitors, who have dropped only two points so far in this campaign. "And, in the past, Germany have never beaten them by wide margins.

"In our last two meetings Wales have drawn 0-0 and only lost the next game 1-0 with a very late goal," Löw added. "Wales were brilliant in defence both times, throwing themselves in front of everything. They will be desperate to hit back."

All this taken into account, it would be as mammoth a shock as it would be a comeback for Wales to take anything from this fixture. With Michael Ballack, Thomas Hitzlsperger and Bastian Schweinsteiger, the Germans boast one of the strongest midfields in the competition and, as Savage so generously pointed out to his former team-mates, the home side may have their work cut out simply to stay in touch. But work, Toshack says, they must.

"There has been a little bit of soul-searching and we had a chat about Saturday and got things off our chest," he said as Wales prepared to face the three-times World Cup winners. "Some of them are disappointed with their own performances. Thankfully we do not have to wait a couple of months to try to put it right. We can get it out of our system right now."

Wales (probable, 5-4-1): Hennessey (Wolves); Gunter (Spurs), Ricketts (Hull), Collins (West Ham), Williams (Swansea), Bale (Spurs); Davies (Fulham), Ledley (Cardiff City), Ramsey (Arsenal), Koumas (Wigan); Bellamy (Manchester City).

Germany (probable, 4-4-2): Adler (Bayer Leverkusen); Beck (Hoffenheim), Mertesacker (Werder Bremen), Tasci (Stuttgart), Lahm (Bayern Munich); Jansen (Hamburg), Hitzlsperger (Stuttgart), Ballack (Chelsea), Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich); Podolski (Bayern Munich), Gomez (Stuttgart).

Referee: T Hauge (Norway)

Group Four

Wales results: Wales 1 Azerbaijan 0, Russia 2 Wales 1, Wales 2 Liechtenstein 0, Germany 1 Wales 0, Wales 0 Finland 2

Remaining fixtures: Tonight Wales v Germany, 6 June Azerbaijan v Wales, 9 Sept Wales v Russia, 10 Oct Finland v Wales, 14 Oct Liechtenstein v Wales