Welsh dragon lacks firepower

Wales 0 Turkey 0 Attendance: 14,206
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The Independent Online
The French summer of 1998 seemed as far away as the Euro banknotes at a freezing Cardiff yesterday, but it will have seemed even more distant to Wales and Turkey as this arid goalless draw not only undermined both teams' hopes of qualifying but also emphasised the poverty of challenge to Belgium and Holland.

The advantage which Wales had taken with their summer start to the Group Seven campaign was wiped out by their two shattering defeats to Holland. But a fixture against Turkey so close to Christmas offered Wales the chance to rack up another three points in the hope Holland and Belgium, who were playing last night, might share a draw.

Wales' new strategy for qualifying from the five-team group would have been based on getting two wins against the Turks and taking at least four points off Belgium. The availability of Ryan Giggs - who missed both games against Holland - and Turkey's utterly anonymous form in Euro 96 (no wins, no goals, no points) gave a noticeably small crowd some hope of a cheering result. The presence of Mark Hughes after last week's injury promised Turkey a tough time, and Dean Saunders, with a season at Galatasaray, was preferred up front to Arsenal's John Hartson.

Wales lined up with an experimental defence which included debutante Robert Page at left-back and Everton's Gary Speed as sweeper. The formation took time to settle and Turkey pinned Wales back in their own half for the first five minutes, although their penetration was negligible.

Hughes, who had started in typically aggressive style with a couple of firm challenges, very nearly had the home side ahead when his far-post volley from Saunders' cross was turned aside by the keeper Engin Ipekoglu. The corner came to nothing.

The match soon began to assume a sterile pattern with Turkey neat but ineffectual in midfield and Wales unable to sustain any momentum. What half-chances there were went to Turkey, with Hakan Sukur setting up a volley for Arif Erdem that was blocked, and defender Alpay Ozalan shooting wide after a neat flick over Vinnie Jones.

Stephen Jenkins's anxiety to join the attack was commendable but his enthusiasm rebounded when he was booked for leaving a foot in on Ipekoglu as the keeper slid out to claim a typically over-hit Welsh pass. The tetchy atmosphere which followed was sustained through to half-time, with Mark Pembridge also being booked and several other players from both sides in the frame with the Romanian referee.

Any hopes that the second half might improve after managerial input were soon dashed as another booking, this time for the Turk Recep Cetin pulling down Giggs, opened proceedings. But as what passed for action unfolded, Wales' central midfield of Jones and Barry Horne began to look ominously ponderous in the face of the Turkish passing.

The Turks should have taken the lead when Abdullah Ercan's pass to Erdem split the Welsh defence, but with Sukur waiting to be played in the pass was wasted. Sukur eventually got in a shot which Neville Southall turned round the post. A deflected shot from Speed and a high left- footer from Saunders were as close as Wales came to scoring, but the threat from the Turks was increasing. Page had to clear from behind Southall as Sukur moved in, and then in the space of a minute Kemalettin Senturk hit the Welsh bar and substitute Oktay Derelioglu's overhead kick was clawed away by Southall.

Wales brought on Hartson for the ineffective Saunders, and Hughes might have rewarded their belated passion but his volley at the far post bounced into the turf and over the bar, and with it almost certainly went Welsh hopes of qualifying.