Speed to act as motivator in crucial Finland tie

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The Independent Football

It was the morning of his 34th birthday yesterday but such was the lingering pain of defeat in Milan that when Gary Speed woke up in his hotel room in the Glamorgan countryside, he was oblivious of the fact.

Analysing the 4-0 defeat by Italy is as painful and necessary as studying a car crash since it made tomorrow's game with Finland into a match Wales cannot afford to lose. A point, allied to anything other than a Serbian victory against Italy in Belgrade, will ensure they will at least have earned a play-off for a place at next summer's European Championship.

Speed admits that it is up to him to help motivate a squad which, since winning in Helsinki a year ago, has created enormous expectations in the principality which are only now beginning to deflate.

"The way I felt after the game on Saturday was the worst I have ever felt," Speed said. "Certainly, the worst in my international career. Anybody who saw me would have realised that.

"I was upset at the manner of our defeat and the performance, not just because we had lost. Getting beaten 1-0 would have been disappointing but the way we went down was the thing that got to me. After a defeat like Saturday's, you don't feel physically dreadful but mentally you do. It is a complete shock, quite hard to describe really. It is just horrible. I even woke up this morning and didn't realise it was my birthday.

"The support for us was fantastic," he added. "We were sitting in the dressing-room quite a while after the game and we were very down, disappointed and quiet. All we could hear in the stadium outside was the Welsh fans singing their hearts out. That is the support we have to reward."

With Craig Bellamy, Mark Delaney and Robbie Savage all suspended against Finland, the risk of defeat is that much greater. The Wales manager, Mark Hughes, must decide whether to continue the experiment of playing Simon Davies in the unfamiliar role of right-back, a gamble which failed badly in the San Siro.

The signs are that the Tottenham midfielder will be restored to his usual role, with the choice of right-back between a specialist in Cardiff's Rhys Weston or the Sunderland midfielder John Oster.

Uefa are to investigate crowd trouble on Saturday. The Football Association of Wales have complained about the treatment of their 8,000 fans in the San Siro, and Europe's governing body confirmed that they will investigate claims from Welsh fans that they were pelted with missiles from Italians in the upper tier above them.

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