The Welsh public have remained distinctly unimpressed with the importance of today's World Cup qualifier against Finland, but fortunately for the trusty souls who will be at the Millennium Stadium, John Toshack has ensured that his players know exactly what rests on this Group Four encounter. Simon Davies and Jason Koumas, in particular, will hear their manager's "must-win" call reverberating around the near empty stands.
Toshack was not prepared to say he was disappointed with the pathetic pre-match tickets sales which have barely topped 15,000, but was ready to admit that he has told Davies and Koumas what is expected of them as Wales attempt to keep themselves in the race for second place with Germany visiting on Wednesday. Young midfielders are coming through and Toshack says he is certain that this talented generation will make it to the finals of a major competition for the first time since 1958. He is uncertain whether it will be this time around, but if it is not, then it is obvious Davies and Koumas may have missed out.
"They both know what my feelings are," said Toshack yesterday, at the Wales team hotel. "This is a game we definitely need to win. Any chances we have of qualification will evaporate if we don't. We need big performances from Jason and Simon. They are still important players for us, particularly in a game such as this when we are at home, it will be tight and we need someone to unlock the defence.
"Simon and Jason are the experienced ones now," he added. "If they look around there's no [Ryan] Giggs, no [John] Hartson, no [Robbie] Savage. I don't think it's too much to say to them 'hey come on, we want you to do something, we want you to be winners, on you go'."
How Koumas reacts will be intriguing to say the least. A frustrating player who has the ability to sparkle, but almost always only at his own behest, the Wigan player will be entrusted with the link role between the midfield and lone striker Craig Bellamy. Toshack will likely resist the temptation to start the Arsenal teenager Aaron Ramsey and instead rely on the more combative Carl Fletcher in the holding role. Meanwhile, the Spurs full-backs, Gareth Bale and Chris Gunter will be urged to thrust forward on the flanks and it is with this sort of spring-heeled exuberance where Bellamy believes his side will hold the edge.
With so many over-30s in their ranks the polite description of Finland would be "experienced". Bellamy was happy to use "ageing". "They do have an ageing squad," said the captain. "But what do have is a lot of legs. For the first time in a number of years we have a number of athletes who can cover the ground really well and hopefully that will be a big advantage for us."
Yet if Wales possess the energy then the Finns have most of the savvy. With Premier League names of the calibre of Jussi Jaaskelainen and Sami Hyypia at the back, and with Mikael Forssell up front, there is quality, albeit past its sell-by date, throughout the side of Stuart Baxter, the Brummie who arrived in his post via Sweden and Norway. It is doubtful that Finland's seasoned campaigners would have been intimidated whatever the atmosphere. But still, Bellamy reiterated his earlier concerns of the debilitating affect on Welsh morale.
There is, however, another reason why the Manchester City marksman hates running out into a empty shell. "It's not nice when my kids are watching and my bad language echoes all around the stadium," he said. "My wife is horrified when I get home."
Wales (probable, 4-4-1-1): Hennessey (Wolves); Gunter (Nottingham Forest), Collins (West Ham), Williams (Swansea), Bale (Tottenham); Davies (Fulham), Fletcher (Plymouth), Edwards (Wolves), Ledley (Cardiff); Koumas (Wigan); Bellamy (Manchester City).
Finland (probable, 4-4-2): Jaaskelainen (Bolton); Pasanen (Werder Bremen), Hyypia (Liverpool), Tinhenen (FC Zurich), Kallio (Fulham); Johansson (Hibernian), Vayrynen (Heerenveen), R Eremenko (Dynamo Kiev), Kolkaa (NAC Breda); A Eremenko (FC Saturn), Forssell (Hanover 96).Reuse content