It is a measure of how many years have advanced since Welsh children made heroes of the national team that Aaron Ramsey, their 20-year-old captain, never wore the country's kit as a boy and has never seen footage of the 4-1 win over Ron Greenwood's England at Wrexham in 1977 which remains the peak of achievement against the old enemy. "I think that was a bit before my time," Ramsey admitted yesterday, when Leighton James' name was put to him and you got the impression that he worshipped Ryan Giggs as a Welsh Manchester United player. "I didn't have the [Wales] kit but when you were in school with friends you always put yourselves in situations and pretended to be in them," said Ramsey, who has not told Giggs that it was his moves he re-enacted in a back garden in Caerphilly.
It may not delight the Wales nation to know that Ramsey's own dreams of international silverware involved him standing on a winners' rostrum with the strains of God Save the Queen in his ears, in London next summer. The captain also revealed yesterday that he and Gareth Bale both want to put themselves at odds with the Welsh FA by appearing in a British team at the Olympics. "Given the opportunity I'd like to," Ramsey said. "If there's a chance to play and there is an opportunity to win a medal it would be great to achieve that in your career." The Football Associations of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are all opposed to the idea of a GB team, fearing it would open the door to Fifa disbanding the individual nations altogether, though Wales say they would take no sanctions against a player for participating.
The prospects of Gary Speed disciplining either star is even more remote than Wales qualifying for next summer's finals in Poland and Ukraine – statistically, the prospect is still alive – and given how steep the decline of the national side has been since the days of James, Terry Yorath and Brian Flynn – all members of the only Wales side to win at Wembley, in 1977 – few can blame the captain for seeking silverware by other means. Wales is awash with optimism since Bale's swashbuckling display secured the 2-1 win over Montenegro in Cardiff on Friday night, but Speed's pragmatism and the absence through suspension tonight of Craig Bellamy should prevent anyone getting carried away about the world's 117th-ranked football nation.
Such was the overhaul Speed felt he needed to undertake when he succeeded John Toshack nine months back that he has only just started looking beyond his own players to consider the opposition in his training sessions. "In the first few camps it was all about us," admitted Speed, who on Friday at last saw his side grasping his gospel about getting the ball down and moving it quickly, rather than sitting in front of the opposition midfield. Time constraints have meant that, as of yesterday afternoon, they had not viewed the DVD of England's dissection of Bulgaria's defence in Sofia.
The gulf between the nations was laid bare in the 14 minutes it took England to go 2-0 up when the nations met at the Millennium Stadium in March. "After half an hour I thought I would take 2-0, yes absolutely!" Speed joked yesterday and the euphoria of victory over Montenegro – the sixth biggest upset of all time, viewed through the two nations' respective Fifa ratings – should not disguise the weaknesses in defence which put Friday's visitors so close to an equaliser. The footage of Chris Gunter giving Stefan Jovetic enough space to score is something to give England's Stewart Downing much encouragement. Aston Villa's James Collins, who may well be restored tonight after suspension, admits he has been the source of too many errors in a Wales jersey.
Speed did not need the DVD to know that Wayne Rooney is the player Wales have to fear tonight. "I wouldn't like to be a centre-half playing against him, to be honest, because of the areas he goes into and when he does go into those areas," he admitted. " People talk about his goalscoring but his movement off the ball ... causes teams so many problems. We have obviously looked at that and ways of minimising his effectiveness but it is going to be difficult."
His side have kept one clean sheet in the last 12 internationals and Speed can only hope for solidity and consider how his own immense weapon can exploit a possible chink in the opposition's own armour. Bellamy's omission means Bale may well be switched from the right wing, where he terrorised Montenegro's Sasa Balic, to the left, where Chris Smalling perhaps poses a lesser threat than Ashley Cole. "Maybe. Maybe, yes," said Speed when this notion was put to him. "I think Smalling, if that's who you are talking about, is inexperienced but he is playing for Manchester United against and with the best players every week so although he is relatively inexperienced he is an excellent player and pretty quick as well."
Speed does not know if there will be enough of a threat to England beyond Bale, whom Fabio Capello yesterday admitted he will re-organise his side to counter. "Hopefully there will be, hopefully," Speed said. "Gareth obviously will be a big player and if they concentrate too much on him, maybe he creates some space for somebody else – you don't know."
So this evening is only one more, small step along a long road, said Speed, whose record at Wembley – two FA Cup final defeats, a League Cup final and play-off final defeat and one successful Charity Shield – offers no grounds for optimism. The symbolic significance of a good result would be incalculable, though, and in search of one, he is looking back to those 1970s history men. "The games has changed [since then] and there were probably a few crunching tackles in those games when you look back that you can't get away with now," he reflected. "But it's [still] about passion, desire and, more importantly, the belief that you can get a result."
Wales's singular win at Wembley over England
England 0 - 1 Wales, 31 May 1977
An England team including Kevin Keegan, Trevor Brooking and Peter Shilton were beaten in this Home International by Mike Smith's Wales side. Wales had reached the quarter-finals of the 1976 European Championship, while England failed to reach either the 1974 or 1978 World Cups, but this was still a surprise. Don Revie resigned as England coach soon after.
The only goal came when winger Leighton James was fouled by Peter Shilton in the first half and converted the resulting penalty.
Manchester United's Stuart Pearson was later brought down by Dai Davies in similar circumstances, but the referee awarded no penalty.Reuse content