Soccer  

World Cup 2022: How Wales can start ‘dream’ World Cup with a win

Danny Gabbidon column
Host nation: Qatar Dates: 20 November-18 December Coverage: Live on BBC TV, BBC iPlayer, BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru, BBC Sounds and the BBC Sport website and app. Day-by-day TV listingsFull coverage details

I’m still pinching myself to make sure it is actually happening – but, after a 64-year wait, Wales will be playing at a World Cup on Monday.

This is what I dreamed of as a boy and hoped for as a player but I never thought I would see it in my lifetime, so it is amazing to be in Qatar to watch it.

Along with the Olympics, this is the most-viewed sporting event on the planet and it is amazing to think about the amount of people that will see Wales play in this tournament.

They are going to enjoy watching us too, by the way. With our fans and our anthem and the atmosphere they create, I think we will become a lot of people’s second team here that they would like to see do well.

I am hopeful that we can too, starting with our first game in Group B against the United States.

It’s incredible just to be here, but there is also an expectation that goes with the Wales team now after what we have done at the European Championships in 2016 and 2021.

I have got some good friends in the squad and speak regularly to a lot of the players, and I can’t wait to see how the boys do.

Will Wales start on the front foot?

21 November United States Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan
25 November Iran Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan
29 November England Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan

Wales’ tournament experience from the past two Euros will be a massive help in Qatar, especially before we play the US.

The first game is always hugely important, of course, but this time we really need a positive start because of the way our fixtures fall in a difficult group.

It is going to be interesting to see how Wales boss Rob Page approaches it, but I’d like to see us on the front foot right away because winning would be huge for our chances of getting to the last 16.

Graphic showing Danny Gabbidon's Wales XI to face the United States: Hennessey, Roberts, Rodon, Davies, Williams, Johnson, Allen, Ramsey, James, Bale, Moore

My team above is quite cavalier and it might be something Page is more likely to try against Iran in our second game – depending on how results go – but I’d rather us be brave against the US.

Page will probably go with his more tried and trusted 3-4-3 shape and try to stay solid and resolute but he still has some big decisions to make, starting with what to do in midfield after it was confirmed Joe Allen is not ready for this game after a long lay-off with his hamstring injury.

Allen returned to full training on Thursday but he has not played since the middle of September and it was a big ask for him to feature, in such difficult conditions.

The problem for Page is that we don’t have another Joe Allen to replace him. He is so good in so many departments – defensively, he sees things before they happen and then when we win the ball back we can just give it to him because he is so comfortable on the ball.

He’s safe and assured, so exactly the sort of player that we needed against the US because they are a high-energy, high-pressing team. But, equally, if he is not ready fitness-wise, then we would not have been able to carry him.

Ethan Ampadu would be my replacement for Allen in midfield if Wales played with four at the back but he is usually one of Page’s three centre-halves in that 3-4-3, so he might have something of a conundrum there.

Moore can help Wales escape the US press

The United States remind me of Wales at Euro 2016, where we went into it not really knowing about tournament football, and there was a kind of fearless nature about us, then we adapted really quickly and it all came together.

They are a young side, with some really talented players – the best crop they have had for a long time – so they are probably very confident and thinking it could happen for them here at their first World Cup, and I am expecting them to come at Wales.

Wales will probably be more conservative and look to hit them on the break, which is why I think Kieffer Moore will be a key player for us in this game.

If the US press like I think they will and try to win the ball high up, my biggest worry would be we over-play at the back and are caught in possession.

We can bypass that if we go straight to Moore and it is a really useful option to have.

Who will announce themselves on the world stage?

Wales are quite pragmatic anyway – we are not a team that is going to cut you open with slick football so we are better off being a little more direct.

By going back to front quickly and finding Moore, you can link play through him and get the likes of Gareth Bale, Daniel James and Brennan Johnson on the ball to hurt the opposition.

Our biggest strengths are our spirit and our togetherness – we are a dogged team and difficult to beat, even if we are not playing well – but we have got match-winners in our side.

That’s not just Aaron Ramsey or Bale anymore, although they have been special players for Wales for a long time. I’m looking for a younger player like Johnson or Neco Williams to really announce themselves on the world stage in Qatar.

I spoke to Brennan this week and you could tell he is absolutely raring to go. He is that kind of player who is not afraid of anything and, no matter what level he steps up to, he seems able to adapt to it and enjoy himself.

Williams is like that too. He has been outstanding for Wales even though he is played slightly out of position at left-back, and he seems to play better in a Wales shirt than he does at club level for some reason. I’m quite happy to see that, though.

If we stay solid as a team, then we can rely on one of those individuals to come up with a bit of magic to win the game for us. Well, that’s what I hope will happen anyway.

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