Wales 0 Bulgaria 0: Enterprising Wales short of firepower

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The Independent Football

Wales limbered up for their first Euro 2008 qualifier - a daunting fixture in the Czech Republic on 2 September - with a game of numerous missed scoring opportunities, 11 substitutions and no fewer than five Welsh captains before just 8,200 fans here in Swansea last night.

It was not that the Welsh struggled to create chances. However, their familiar failures in front of goal - they have not scored in three of the last four matches - made the pre-match news of John Hartson's willingness to resume his international career all the more significant.

John Toshack said Hartson had called him, asking to be considered again after retiring four matches ago. "It's great because it gives us an alternative up front," Toshack said. "We once had lots of centre-forwards. We don't have that type of player now."

Wales promised much before Toshack and the Bulgaria coach, Hristo Stoichkov, started making changes. However, the attacking partnership of Craig Bellamy and Robert Earnshaw looked lightweight, while Ryan Giggs cut a peripheral figure on the left.

Stoichkov had most of his key players available, including Tottenham's £10.9m striker, Dimitar Berbatov, and Celtic's Stilian Petrov. Toshack fielded one of Wales' stronger friendly sides and the teams traded scoring opportunities in an open first half.

Giggs' 20-yard free-kick saw Georgi Petkov plunging to parry, while Bellamy proved unable to do more than scuff the ball as it flew into his path following Mark Delaney's cross.

Wales later came close through an opportunist drive by Sam Ricketts. Meanwhile, Bulgaria created a good chance midway through the half, Stilian Petrov's back-heeled pass setting up Berbatov for a shot which James Collins diverted behind.

Berbatov gave a glimpse of what Spurs fans might expect in a flurry of activity after the break. One drive struck the legs of Paul Jones, Wales' 39-year-old keeper, while a free header flashed a foot wide.

Simon Davies' long-range shot, tipped over by Dimitar Ivankov, showed Wales' readiness to battle to the end, justifying Toshack's cautiously optimistic verdict: "We're going in the right direction."

Wales (4-4-2): Jones (Queen's Park Rangers); Delaney (Aston Villa), Collins, Gabbidon (both West Ham), Ricketts (Hull); Davies (Everton), Fletcher (Crystal Palace), Robinson (Norwich), Giggs (Manchester United); Bellamy (Liverpool), Earnshaw (Norwich). Substitutes used: Nyatanga (Derby) for Giggs, 52; Ledley (Cardiff) for Fletcher, 52; Duffy (Portsmouth) for Delaney, 61; Vaughan (Crewe) for Ricketts, 69; Parry (Cardiff) for Bellamy, 72; Edwards (Wolves) for Gabbidon, 74.

Bulgaria (4-2-3-1): Petkov (Levski Sofia); Angelov (Levski Sofia), Kirilov (Litex Lovech), Tomasic, Vagner (both Levski); S Petrov (Celtic), Kishishev (Charlton); Peev (Dynamo Kiev), Iankovic (Dalian Shide), M Petrov (Atletico Madrid); Berbatov (Tottenham). Substitutes used: Ivankov (Kayserispor) for Petkov, h-t; Georgiev (Red Star Belgrade) for Peev, 56; Lazarov (Erciysspor) for M Petrov, 56; S Todorov (Portsmouth) for Iankovic, 64; Y Todorov (CSKA Sofia) for Kishishev, 73; Iliev (CSKA) for Angelov, 82.

Referee: J Attard (Malta).