Wales do not normally fit the bill whenever international giants are discussed but their reputation will loom over their opponents in Cardiff this afternoon. San Marino, whose qualification record in the last World Cup read two goals for 48 against, are traditional whipping boys when it comes to group matches and that is when they are match fit. At the moment the part-timers are in the middle of their close season.
On top of that there is a 5-0 thrashing of today's opponents secured in June to massage Welsh confidence. As a manager, Bobby Gould, has said this week a repeat of that score would be about as good a start as he could hope for by a nation who have not reached the finals since 1958.
Dean Saunders, whose form in Serravalle two months ago allowed Gould the luxury of dropping Ian Rush, concedes that anything other than a victory would have catastrophic consequences for the Welsh, as Group Seven also includes the Netherlands, Belgium and Turkey.
"If you don't get the points from the easy games," the Nottingham Forest striker said, "then you've got to beat teams like Holland. If you've got the points in the bag you're going to places like Amsterdam knowing a draw is a good result. It's not an easy group but we're on the front foot and looking to keep going forward. If we beat San Marino again we'll be top of the table with a head start on everybody."
In San Marino the Welsh, inspired by a rampant Ryan Giggs, were 3-0 up by half-time and Saunders believes the start today will dictate the pattern. "We have to make sure we approach the game properly," he said, "and nail them down early on. If we let the match drag on without breaking them down they'll become more determined."
Gould was so happy with his team's performance in Serravalle that not only Rush has failed to make it back into the team. Gary Speed, who missed the last match because of his honeymoon, is only a substitute despite an encouraging start with Everton since his pounds 3.5m transfer from Leeds this summer. "They played well out there," the manager said of his unchanged side. "They deserve another chance."
At least San Marino will be forewarned particularly about Giggs who will be the focus of the attention for their defenders. "We will do everything possible to stop Giggs," said Massimo Bonini, the San Marino coach. "We will try to keep a close watch on him and not allow him space. He showed in San Marino that he could play for any team in Italy. He would be welcome anywhere.
"I knew the Welsh players were strong but we now realise they also have good technique. They have very good players like Giggs and [Mark] Hughes. We weren't ready for them in June but now we know what to expect."
WALES: Southall (Everton); Browning (Bristol Rovers), Bowen (West Ham), Melville (Sunderland), Coleman (Blackburn), Pembridge (Sheffield Wednesday), Horne (Birmingham), Robinson (Charlton), Giggs (Manchester United), Saunders (Nottingham Forest), Hughes (Chelsea).Reuse content