Reporter Notebook: Wales can achieve Euro dream without Ramsey and Bale


Beware of overconfidence. That simple message combined with how to break down Finland’s defence and ensure Wales’ remains intact is a key part of Rob Page’s build-up to their Euro 2024 play-off semi-final.

Wales dislike being favourites. It doesn’t sit well outwardly with the group’s mentality and most probably with most supporters. Underdog is far better. So why is this part of the narrative?

Don’t misjudge by assuming the Wales players and Page are quivering wrecks with self-confidence doubts, they are not that. They believe in their ability and they have a very competent psychologist in Ian Mitchell who works with the team. He has been well known to the Welsh set-up for some time, he’s also helped England and Gareth Southgate in the past.

Yet ‘underdog’ sits more comfortably with Wales, certainly when there is a lot of external ‘noise’ – that’s code for people like me!

Wales like the backs-to-the-wall build-up, the David vs Goliath scenario. They can feed off it as they have done during several World Cup and Euros qualifying campaigns and at tournaments, most notably Euro 2016 and Euro 2020.

Rob Page came through the weekend matches unscathed
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Rob Page is leading Wales’ new generation into a crunch fixture with Finland

Wales are a small nation with a much smaller pool of available playing talent than some nations, so it’s inevitable one would wish to prove doubters wrong and bring down a bigger, more powerful foe.

However, Finland – and I mean no disrespect to the Finns – are a team Wales should beat. Wales’ players are man-for-man better, but are they a better team on the night? We’ll soon see.

And that’s where tactics and perhaps a little luck come in. Finland will be physical, they’ll pose a set-piece threat and defensively they will aim to be compact and narrow Wales, negate the pace players like Brennan Johnson, Dan James and Neco Williams offer.

If those three have a free pass – unlikely – then Wales will overrun Finland. So how do Page and his coaching staff prepare for this and ensure Wales don’t become frustrated?

Ethan Ampadu challenges Marcelo Brozovic
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Ethan Ampadu (right) is seen as one of the future stars for Wales

Patience is an obvious answer, but Wales also have players who can hold the ball, deliver a pass and pull and push an opposition about so that gaps appear.

This is where Ethan Ampadu, Harry Wilson and the ever-impressive Jordan James come in. It’s not their job to fly down the flanks, but they might be the key to Welsh success. If they can deny Finland possession, get them running around the pitch without the ball then they will tire, get frustrated, lose shape and then gaps will appear.

I’ve not mentioned Aaron Ramsey or Gareth Bale yet. I have now… But note how I have not mentioned how Wales could use Ramsey to outplay Finland. This team doesn’t need Ramsey. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a serious world-class talent and a great option to use but maybe now we are at a crossroads where Wales can cope.

The transition of Wales from when they had Ramsey and Bale pulling the strings to a new generation is well under way and is bearing fruit. The younger generation have beaten Croatia and outplayed Turkey – Ramsey was injured, Bale retired.

Aaron Ramsey has been plagued by injuries this season
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Aaron Ramsey has been plagued by injuries this season

Last year, consistency and a full 90-minute performance were the only things missing at times. The continued transition of the side must now bring consistency.

As Wales sit on the cusp of qualifying for a third straight Euros, if successful, they do so without Bale. Page and Ben Davies, who’ll captain the side against Finland, won’t hide the fact that his retirement took away a potent weapon, but should Wales navigate the play-offs and reach Germany, perhaps it would be an equal, if not a greater achievement, than past qualifications.

Wales squad to face Finland

Goalkeepers: Wayne Hennessey, Danny Ward, Tom King, Adam Davies.

Defenders: Ben Davies, Joe Rodon, Joe Low, Chris Mepham, Ben Cabango, Neco Williams, Jay DaSilva, Connor Roberts, Wes Burns.

Midfielders: Ethan Ampadu, Josh Sheehan, Dylan Levitt, Jordan James, Charlie Savage, Harry Wilson, Aaron Ramsey, David Brooks.

Forwards: Nathan Broadhead, Rabbi Matondo, Daniel James, Liam Cullen, Rubin Colwill, Brennan Johnson, Kieffer Moore.

Euro 2024 play-off draw in full

Play-off semi-finals

Path A

Poland vs Estonia

Wales vs Finland

Path B

Israel vs Iceland

Bosnia-Herzegovina vs Ukraine

Path C

Georgia vs Luxembourg

Greece vs Kazakhstan

Play-offs finals

Path A: Wales/Finland vs Poland/Estonia

Path B: Bosnia-Herzegovina/Ukraine vs Israel/Iceland

Path C: Georgia/Luxembourg vs Greece/Kazakhstan



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