Weblog: The football punter

Wales to take advantage of Ireland's absentees

Nations League League B Group Four
Sky Sports Main Event, 7.45pm Thursday

Wales have had to wait 11 months for a competitive match since the door to World Cup 2018 qualification was shut by a 1-0 loss at home to Ireland last year, and they can ease some of the pain by defeating the Boys in Green in their Nations League opener at the Cardiff City Stadium.

Ryan Giggs replaced Chris Coleman as Wales manager in January and has had three games to put his plans into practice – winning 6-0 against China, losing 1-0 to Uruguay and drawing 0-0 with Mexico.

Ultimately Giggs will be judged on whether Wales qualify for Euro 2020 and one of the possible routes to the finals is via the Nations League.

Wales and Ireland have been drawn alongside Denmark in League B Group Four and one of those teams (the sectional winner) will be guaranteed a place in the Euro 2020 qualification playoffs in March 2020.

The main focus will still be on standard European championship qualification which takes place between March and November next year and generates 20 of the 24 qualification slots.

However, reaching the Euro 2020 qualification playoffs in advance would provide a handy fallback option.

The balance of the group has been unsettled by problems in the Denmark camp with the players in dispute with the Danish FA over commercial rights.

Denmark's regular players and those from the top two tiers in the Danish League have refused to play, forcing the Danish FA to cobble to together a squad featuring a combination of futsal and lower league players for Sunday's Nations League clash at home to Wales.

Anything other than a big win for Wales in Aarhus would be a huge surprise but the Danes could be much stronger by the time of next's months clash away to Ireland as long as the dispute has been resolved.

The Danish turmoil affords Wales a great chance to take command of the group as long as they can start with a victory over Ireland.

And Wales go into the Ireland game with plenty of optimism thanks to the availability of star men Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey and the selection of talented youngsters Ben Woodburn, Harry Wilson and David Brooks.

Giggs has a selection headache for all the right reasons but opposing manager Martin O'Neill has more difficult decisions to make due to the absence of several key players.

Regulars Shane Long, James McClean and Robbie Brady are injured and Harry Arter withdrew from the squad after a row with assistant manager Roy Keane.

It leaves O'Neill's squad short of quality and depth (14 of the players have ten caps or fewer) and makes it extremely tough for them to stage a repeat of the backs-to-the-wall 1-0 success achieved in Cardiff last October.

Wales will have to show patience against committed and well organised opponents, but they have a much stronger pool of players and should justify odds-on favouritism.


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Match in Focus


Germany v Holland

Home WinDrawAway Win
Key stats
  • Holland have lost just one of their last eight internationals
Expert verdict
Germany can take some much-needed confidence from their 3-0 friendly win against Russia but the relegated hosts could suffer another Nations League defeat to Holland. Ronald Koeman’s side will win of the group with victory and will be brimming with confidence after sinking World Cup holders France 2-0 on Friday.