Hughes in charge as Wales edge towards glory

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The Independent Online
MARK HUGHES leads his country for the first time on Welsh soil tonight to fulfil an ambition he has long coveted during an illustrious career. Hughes, 35 next month, admits he will be proud to captain the side in their crucial European Championship qualifier with Belarus in Cardiff on a night of dual significance for the veteran forward.

Tonight the captaincy falls to Hughes as he wins his 69th cap and overtakes the legendary Ivor Allchurch - who died recently after a long illness - to become the fifth most-capped Welsh footballer. Hughes has only captained his country once before, in 1992 when Mark Pembridge's goal beat the Republic of Ireland in Dublin, and he has been offered a second chance due to the suspension of Newcastle's Gary Speed.

"Captaincy is not something I have done in my career," said Hughes, who has had spells at Manchester United, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Chelsea and is currently with Southampton.

"At international level there was Barry Horne for many years and now it's Gary [Speed]. And at the clubs I've been at there has always been a long standing, obvious captain around," Hughes said.

"But as I have got older I feel more able to take on the extra responsibilities that I didn't really want on my shoulders when I was younger. I'm more demonstrative on the pitch than I ever am off it, so I can do all the shouting and talking that's needed.

"I realise also that five more games after this I will overtake the likes of Ian Rush, Peter Nicholas and Joey Jones to become second only to Neville Southall. I won't catch him on 92 but it gives me the incentive to stick around a bit longer to try to get those last five caps."

After the marvellous victory in Denmark on Saturday, another success will give the long suffering Welsh fans the novel prospect of qualification for the finals. Hughes will keep his midfield role in a Welsh side that has been hampered by Speed's suspension and the late injury to Adrian Williams, who damaged his neck in training.

The Wales manager, Bobby Gould, will include Charlton's John Robinson at right-back. Pembridge will also start the game as Speed's midfield replacement and Robbie Savage will switch to the centre of defence as Wales maintain their successful 5-3-2 formation. Gould has called up Cardiff City's 22 year-old defender, Scott Young, as defensive cover because of Williams' injury.

WALES (probable): Jones (Southampton), Robinson (Charlton), Symons (Fulham), Savage (Leicester), Coleman (Fulham), Barnard (Barnsley), Pembridge (Benfica), Hughes (Southampton), Johnson (Nottingham Forest), Blake (Bolton), Saunders (Sheffield Utd).