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    Young Guns Blog by John Jones.

    A very busy time in the international football calendar lately has meant that there have been various Wales matches across the whole spectrum of the age groups. The youngest, the U-17's played a couple of friendlies against their Scottish counterparts, both ending in 2-0 losses. I have no knowledge of the games excepting the mentioned results which could be categorized as disappointing. I will offer a thought that I believe that Scotland have recently been quite strong in the youth age groups and so there may be room for some amount of optimism. The team will be tested in the next few days as they will travel to Hungary for the preliminary set of qualifying matches in this season's European U-17 championships and the results of those games may give us a better indication of their relative strength within their peer group. We wish them all the good fortune possible in their quest to progress to the next phase.

    The U-19's will be similarly involved when they travel to Turkey in November. Having just completed their preparation with 2 friendlies against Switzerland, those following on from 2 games against Iceland last month, 1 win and 3 losses was the summation of their efforts. Again, with little actual knowledge but some amount of assumption, the strength of the opposition chosen can be deemed as at least good when considering the progress made by the football standard of those 2 nations and we probably should not judge on results alone. A very pleasing outcome in their latest set of games was that the win was achieved by a flurry of late goals, an indication that there is a willingness to strive until the final whistle by the group. There is also much encouragement to be gained from the fact that a very competitive squad was assembled even though a number of still eligible players have been correctly moved further up the ladder as it were. A positive sign in respect to an evaluation of the depth of talent available at this level.

    An away trip to Liechtenstein proved to be a productive venture for the Welsh U-21 team as they beat the opposition by a score of 3-1, a couple of them by George Thomas and the other from Matt Smith. George has been prolific at finding the net for the young Wales teams over the last few months, but will I'm sure agree that it is a reflection of good team play as much as anything. The win against the minnows of the group was certainly an expected one and tougher challenges lie ahead. The next 2 games which will be played next month at Bangor City's Nantporth ground will help define how successful this qualifying campaign will be for the youngsters. Two wins would definitely provide a platform for them to remain very competitive in a group that has quite a bit of quality competition in it. It will be far from easy and I'm sure the team would benefit and be most grateful for all the vocal support that is provided at that time.

    Unfortunately, the summer of 2018 will not give us fans any chance to consider the possibility of repeating the euphoric emotions that enveloped the nation during the Euro's. A disappointing home defeat gives the ROI fans that hope for the moment as they progress to the playoffs in November. It was a game that fell flat after the 3 important wins that preceded, set up great expectations. Neither side played as well as they might have, a result that hinged on a half chance that was well taken. Plenty of discussion will I am sure take place as to the merits of various things, some points will probably be valid, most I suspect will not. Of course, you are subjected to my viewpoint through reading this blog and I will summarize in this way. Hindsight gives me an opinion that the team peaked at the Euro's and though it would have been another great situation to anticipate next year, 2016 is a summer we are unlikely to forget and all concerned in making that so, should be held in high esteem no matter what has followed. Other than maybe for this final game, I cannot overly criticize and cite any underachievement. When the qualifying group was announced, I did suspect that a successful campaign was going to be a tough challenge to attain. Building up to Monday, I must admit that I was expecting playoff involvement. Now, it is something for Irish fans to focus upon and they probably should have an amount of apprehension as to whether they can get through that next step. I would have been so if Wales were involved, potential opponents will not be easy to overcome.

    Where do we go from here? That is probably a question on many minds at the moment. Having had my say about the team already, I will add that I did not think that any of the players were poor during the fateful game but by the same token there was also a collective inability to raise the level much above mediocrity. It is now an ageing team, one that needs an infusion of younger players to at the very least help maintain the standard that has been achieved. It is not an indictment on those who have performed very well, one can even say magnificently at times but is an acknowledgement change has to come, perhaps sooner rather than later. The squad as it stands already contains young players with a potential to not only steady the ship but one that could produce an improvement. Now comes an opportunity to integrate them into the team whilst experienced players can help them get acclimatized to the demands international football will pose to both their skills and composure. Again, looking back somewhat, maybe the biggest element missing during the qualifying campaign was the lack of enough younger candidates worthy of consideration. As the core group that has given us quite a bit of pleasure matured, it did seem as though there was a continuing supply available to supplement it. There were unfortunate injuries that undoubtedly reduced the options, but also some of those that were regarded as candidates did not develop as was anticipated. There were some important additions that helped a great deal during Euro qualification and all that ensued after. It has to be remembered what it takes to be a viable senior international player, a very high standard of performance and the dedication and determination that has to accompany the quality in order to survive the test of skill levels possessed. It does seem that we do have that sort of formula in these youngsters on the verge of the team, but they will need to have others of the same ilk to join them if the team is to take a step forward to get that elusive World Cup finals berth at the next time of asking. At present, I would say the jury is still deliberating, there are signs that it could be a positive verdict but more evidence needs to be assessed. Qualification for the Euro's will be the next test, I am optimistic that this part of the odyssey can continue and 2020 will be at the least, a summer of anticipation for the national populace and followers further afield.

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    Posted: Wednesday 11th October 2017
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