Monday, 7 September 2009

Toshack's goals

Wales face Russia at the Millennium Stadium on Wednesday night knowing that they will not be qualifying for the World Cup next year. Their aim is to finish third in the group, thereby improving their seeding for the next round of qualifying games and, so the theory goes, placing them in an easier qualification group for Euro 2012.

This would mean finishing above Finland - the team who embarassed Wales 2-0 in Cardiff in March. The return leg in Helsinki comes next month and given that Wales are four points adrift of Finland that would appear to be a must-win game for Toshack's side. In addition, both teams have a difficult game - Wales play Russia on Wednesday and Finland travel to Germany in October - and a trip to Liechtenstein to negotiate.

But first comes Russia and Wales's lack of goals. Wales haven't scored more than one goal in a game for almost a year - that came against Liechtenstein and was a struggle. Wales have managed just 12 goals in the last 15 games, and 4 in the last 8.

Within the World Cup qualifying groups, only Albania, Malta, Luxembourg, Moldova, San Marino, Azerbaijan, Liechtenstein, Armenia, Andorra, Faroe Islands, Georgia and Macedonia have scored fewer than Wales. At the other end of the pitch, Wales have conceded 7 goals in 7 games - the same number as Croatia and France.

The defence isn't perfect but with Gabbidon alongside Collins it starts to look solid again. The young midfield grows with every game and there can be no doubt as to the potential of a Ramsey, Ledley, Edwards, Collison combination. The issue really is one of goals.

Toshack needs to start with Ched Evans, who has two goals this season, alongside Bellamy, who has none. Earnshaw, Church and Vokes are also yet to score this term but Bellamy's experience puts him ahead of the pack.

Toshack also needs to give Ramsey licence to break forward in support and shoot on sight. Ramsey's goal against Italy for the U21s shows the threat he carries. David Edwards chipped in with the winner in Azerbaijan and should be encouraged to join the front two at every opportunity.

Even if Wales beat Finland next month, and assuming that both teams get three points in Liechtenstein, the difference between the two sides will come down to how Wales fare against Russia and how Finland get on in Germany. Finland did push Germany all the way in a 3-3 draw earlier in the campaign but with Germany potentially needing a win to secure top place in the group, victory should be within Germany's grasp.

All this makes the Russia game crucial for Toshack's stated aim of finishing third in the group. Russia will score in Cardiff; the question is how many will Wales manage?

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