Toshack may yet consider comeback for Savage

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The Independent Online

Robbie Savage will be nowhere near the Ernst-Happel Stadium here tonight as Wales face Austria with only honour at stake. But as surely as the Stephansdom cathedral cast its shadow in the early-evening spring sunshine yesterday, so the departures of Savage and Wales's previous management team continued to obscure the task at hand.

Robbie Savage will be nowhere near the Ernst-Happel Stadium here tonight as Wales face Austria with only honour at stake. But as surely as the Stephansdom cathedral cast its shadow in the early-evening spring sunshine yesterday, so the departures of Savage and Wales's previous management team continued to obscure the task at hand.

John Toshack was dismissive when asked what he thought of comments in recent days by Mark Bowen, who was Mark Hughes's No 2 with Wales and is his deputy now at Blackburn. Bowen said their work with Wales could be "wasted" under Toshack.

"I have heard some of what has been said but I am sure you will understand it does not concern me, I have no response whatsoever," Toshack said. Clearly fed up with the topic, but not so much that an acid sense of humour had deserted him, he turned to the translator and added: "You might have to explain to the Austrians here who Mark Bowen is. He was the coach who left after four games of this group."

Asked whether there was any chancethere might be a way back into the Wales team for Savage, Toshack said: "I certainly do not wish to talk about that either just 24 hours before a big match, it is not something I am thinking about."

Significantly, there was no firm knock-back, which lends credence to the rumours that Savage wants to return and could be given a hearing. Sources within the Football Association of Wales say there will be no first approach from Toshack, who was angered by Savage's remarks about him taking Wales "back to the dark ages". Savage would be expected to make a private apology, then a public apology, and thenToshack might reconsider.

Ryan Giggs, a close friend of Savage, has reportedly phoned Savage and urged him to make peace with Toshack, although Giggs declined to discuss the matter yesterday.

For tonight, Toshack is likely to abandon the 4-2-3-1 formation he used against Austria on Saturday. John Hartson, who has a swollen ankle, is unlikely to start, meaning Giggs, the captain, and Craig Bellamy could play up front in a 5-3-2.

Toshack said he accepts that he himself needs to "work harder" to explain his tactical thinking, and added that it is still "too early" in his tenure to expect meaningful rebuilding.

"I accept we may have to go one step back to go two forward," he said, adding that his playing resources are limited. On a positive note, he added that itis possible "to make a silk purse from a sow's ear", citing Greece at Euro 2004 and the Champions' League winners, Porto, as examples of teams doing better than expected.

Bizarrely, he also cited Mao Tse-tung when arguing that advancing age did not have to mean retirement. A message to Savage, perhaps? As Mao said: "Once all struggle is grasped, miracles are possible."

WALES (5-3-2): Coyne (Burnley); Delaney (Aston Villa), Collins (Sunderland), Gabbidon (Cardiff), Partridge (Motherwell), Ricketts (Swansea); Robinson (Sunderland), Davies (Tottenham), Fletcher (West Ham); Bellamy (Celtic), Giggs (Manchester Utd).

AUSTRIA (4-4-2): Payer (Rapid Vienna); Dospel (Austria Magna), Ehmann (Graz AK), Stranzl (Stuttgart), Katzer (Rapid Vienna); Kirchler (Pasching), Kuhbauer (SV Mattersburg), Aufhauser (Graz AK), Ivanschitz (Rapid Vienna); Haas (JEF United), Vastic (Austria Magna).

Referee: M Gonzalez (Spain).

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