Wales achieved their first victory under Gary Speed with a 2-1 victory over Montenegro in Cardiff on Friday, and ahead of the all-British clash with England at Wembley, Speed was able to call upon a strong, attacking side, with his new core of senior players forming a potentially formidable line-up.
Having built early pressure, Wales found the breakthrough just before the half-hour mark. David Vaughan made a powerful run down the left flank, his low cross eventually finding Norwich City striker, Steve Morrison, to poke home from close range. As the Wales offence continued, Vaughan’s endeavour from a wide position was complimented on the opposite wing.
Fit-again Gareth Bale looked to recreate the form which saw him voted PFA Player’s Player of the Year on the international stage with a series of trademark runs, this time playing from the right, serving the likes Morrison and Liverpool’s Craig Bellamy in attack, and delivering a series of threatening crosses to torment the Montenegro defence as well as a ferocious 25-yard drive which forced Montenegro goalkeeper, Mladen Bozovic into a save.
In a midfield captain Aaron Ramsey anchored the side. The Arsenal midfielder pulled strings in the centre, bringing a calming influence to the Wales midfield, dictating play, before breaking from midfield to combine with Bale as Wales doubles their lead five minutes after the restart. A long ball out from the back was brought down expertly by Bale who drove at the Montenegro defence once again, before laying off for the onrushing Ramsey to coolly slot past Bozovic.
Wales will expect to face a tougher test against England, the side they lost 2-0 to at the Millennium Stadium in March. However, Speed’s Wales side look to be making gradual progress. With Bale fresh from his first Champions League campaign, earning widespread plaudits in the process, and recovered from injury, he has become invaluable to his national side’s cause.
Likewise, the return to fitness of Ramsey has added a new dimension to Wales. Following a horrific leg break and a subsequent loan spell to regain his fitness, Ramsey has returned to the fold at Arsenal. With Bellamy also swapping Manchester City for Liverpool, via a loan spell at Cardiff City, Wales’ first-choice starting XI now boasts a number of established Premier League players, some of whom now hold European experience playing with and against some of world football’s elite talent.
Although Wales must continue to improve to reach Speed’s long-term target of qualifying for major international tournaments, his side’s performance against Montenegro shows continued improvement under the new manager. With a tough test to come on Tuesday, the clash of two transitional international sides will certainly have a new injection of interest from both sets of supporters and neutrals alike.
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