October 9, 2019 1:08:24 PM
Wales meet Slovakia in a crucial Euro 2020 qualifier in Trnava on Thursday.
Here, the PA news agency looks at the main talking points surrounding the Group E fixture.
The jury remains out on Ryan Giggs, even though the Wales manager is now only three months short of his second anniversary in the job. The former Manchester United winger has had some highs in attempting to find the right blend, most notably the 4-1 thrashing of the Republic of Ireland just over a year ago. But there have been too many lows as Wales have been playing catch-up in Euro 2020 qualifying, and Giggs must show more tactical awareness.
It is not an over-exaggeration to suggest that Wales’ Euro 2020 fortunes would be a lot brighter had Aaron Ramsey been available. Ramsey’s delicate hamstrings have left Giggs, well, hamstrung. The Juventus midfielder has not played a single minute of this qualifying campaign, and Giggs will not be alone in Wales in hoping that the ‘twinge’ he felt in his adductor muscle last weekend will prevent him shining against Slovakia and Croatia this week.
Group E has stood for equality with a four-way fight for the top two qualifying places. Croatia lead the way, one point ahead of Slovakia and Hungary and four clear of Wales who have a game in hand on all of their rivals. The fact Wales beat Slovakia at home in March leaves them in good shape on the head-to-head if they do not lose in Trnava. Wales play Croatia at home on Sunday before finishing with a trip to Azerbaijan and the visit of Hungary. Giggs’ aim is to take the race down to the final two games.
Just over six weeks ago Ashley Williams did not have a club and Wales’ third-most capped player’s future international prospects looked bleak. The 86-times capped defender was left out of the squad for the qualifying win against Azerbaijan, but the 35-year-old signed for Bristol City and has started the high-flying Robins’ last five games in the Sky Bet Championship. So Williams was quickly recalled to the squad and now looks set to play against Slovakia with Chris Mepham injured. Never write him off.
In the words of Tammy Wynette, Wales boss Giggs did stand by his man. Tom Lawrence’s selection provoked consternation among many Wales fans after the Derby forward was involved in a car accident and charged with drink-driving. Giggs called it a “football decision” but it remains to be seen – as has been the case with some Derby fans – whether the player will be jeered by Wales supporters. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the selection, Giggs has made a big call – and Lawrence needs to repay that faith.