Wales' preparations for Saturday's crucial World Cup qualifier against Finland got off to a good start yesterday when Manchester City's Craig Bellamy took a full part in practice. Not only that, but the captain, who has recently spent three weeks on the sidelines with a knee injury, was apparently at his whingeing best at the Vale of Glamorgan training ground.
"He was lively and back to his normal self," reported his team-mate Carl Robinson. "Arguing, moaning, running, scoring... He's great to have around."
John Toshack, the Wales manager, will doubtless say a hearty "hear, hear" to that as he tries to patch a side together for the Millennium must-winner. The influence that the 29-year-old commands in this young Wales outfit cannot be overstated and against the Scandinavians his presence could be particularly significant.
Lose and Wales' latest attempt to qualify for their first major finals since the 1958 World Cup will be all but over. Three points, however, would leave them handily placed in the race for second place, with Germany, the overwhelming favourites to finish top of Group Four, visiting Cardiff next Wednesday.
Toshack is praying that Bellamy will be joined in Wales' starting XI by the West Ham centre-half James Collins, who had only a light training session yesterday as he continues to have treatment on a hamstring problem that has kept him out of the game for a month.
"Whenever these vital games come round it seems to be par for the course that we've got these problems," Toshack said. "But I am hopeful that these two [Bellamy and Collins], who are very, very big players for us, will be available."
Toshack, who turned 60 at the weekend, sounded ready to gamble on Collins. And Aaron Ramsey will certainly be hoping that Toshack does just that after the manager revealed that it could well increase the Arsenal teenager's chances of making his competitive international bow on Saturday.
"The problems at centre-back don't only influence who plays there; it influences who plays in midfield as well," explained Toshack. "Possibly it could have an effect on Ramsey starting. I don't know yet."
With Collins' club team-mate Jack Collison missing with a dislocated kneecap, Toshack also appears to have little option but to start with Jason Koumas. The talented but frustrating midfielder has not played for Wigan Athletic since the start of last month as he has struggled to recover from a thigh injury.
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