Toshack's young hopefuls return from Croatia beaten but unbowed

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The Independent Football

Wales returned home beaten but far from dispirited after a gallant performance in Croatia on Sunday night. John Toshack's side were given little hope as they travelled to Osijek for their season-ending friendly against the Euro 2008 quarter-finalists with a squad of just 17.

Toshack, who was denied the services of 15 senior players for the match for a variety of reasons, was forced to make seven changes and handed out five new caps.

Not surprisingly his inexperienced line-up failed to hold out against a Croatia team boasting an inspired Luka Modric and were ultimately beaten 2-0 after superb strikes from Ivan Rakitic and Drago Gabric.

Yet Slaven Bilic's men were frustrated for large spells by the spirited Welsh, who were also unfortunate to have what would have been the game's opening goal disallowed.

Defender Chris Gunter said: "It was going to be a tough game; it was what we expected. But in the first half, apart from the goal, Wayne [Hennessey] didn't really have a save to make and with a few different decisions we could have been going in at half-time a lot different.

"I think overall there are a few positives to come out of it. If injuries crop up these are the boys that are going to be needed but I'm sure they'll be looking to get in on their own merit anyway, not just because of injuries. To get a first cap is a proud moment and one for them to build on."

Gunter was involved in the game's one moment of controversy, when his cross from the left found its way into the Croatia net at the far post.

Initially Reading's Simon Church appeared to have claimed the decisive final touch before being flagged offside.

Gunter argued Church had not actually touched the ball and the goal should have stood. The 24-year-old Nottingham Forest player said: "Churchy said he wasn't offside but he didn't touch it anyway. Maybe he was interfering but it went straight in anyway. If they go in they can change the game. But it is a really good team to play against and a really good atmosphere. It was a good game to be involved in."

Gunter's Forest team-mate Robert Earnshaw, who won his 49th cap in partnering Church up front, also felt there were reasons for optimism looking ahead to the start of Euro 2012 qualifiers in September – especially as by then players like Craig Bellamy, Gareth Bale, James Collins, Simon Davies, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Collison should be ready to return.

Earnshaw said: "When you lose a game it is disappointing but we have got good things to take back. In the first half, especially, we were a threat and I thought we did very well. We defended well and they didn't have too many chances. It was just the timing of the first goal; maybe it killed us a little bit.

"But sometimes when someone drills it into the corner from 25 yards you have got to hold your hands up and say it was a good goal. It was a great finish. Maybe in the second half we gave them too much space, and with the subs maybe you lose shape a little bit."

One of the new players to make a positive impression, albeit at a cost, was Wrexham youngster Neil Taylor. The 21-year-old defender, who along with Mark Bradley, Christian Ribeiro and Hal Robson-Kanu was promoted from the Under-21 squad last week, made his debut off the bench in the second half, playing in midfield.

Taylor's appearance made him just the second non-League player to represent Wales in 78 years, and not even an ankle injury which meant he left on crutches could take the gloss off the occasion. The 21-year-old said: "I'm OK, it was just a kick. It's ballooned up a bit but we're just taking precautions.

"It happened in the last few minutes and I wasn't going to come off. It's fine and I'm just glad to make my debut."