Another international break is completed, one that we can certainly savour in the present and fondly remember when we rekindle memories. During its approach, we anticipated the significance of getting a positive result, believed it was a possibility, but in all honesty, feared some calamity might occur. Confidence was not in abundance, a parallel to the realization that some important members of the squad were unavailable. However, the team performed with such magnificence it produced an inspirational rendering of “Yma o Hyd” by members of the Red Wall as they lauded their heroes when the final whistle echoed through the stadium. A game plan was set, the players responded to the enormity of the task and executed their duties with an unwavering belief, as they displayed the quality of their talent. Undoubtedly, a magnificent feather in the cap moment for all concerned and yet it is only one game in a set of three that require a likewise response before we can breathe a sigh of relief and truly celebrate the achievement. We will now await the upcoming break with another spell of nervous excitement, as it was to precede this last one. As an aside, we were also allowed a glimpse into the future when witnessing senior team debuts by young guns Joe Low and Charlie Savage. Given starting assignments for the friendly encounter with Gibraltar a few days earlier, they displayed their worthiness for inclusion with aplomb, providing praiseworthy contributions in another good team display. Both the players themselves and the coaches can reflect on the occasion in successful terms. Joe and Charlie will obviously be delighted, their performances confirmed that they are not out of place on such a stage and will be eager to experience more as soon as possible. They will also know that it cannot come to fruition without overcoming some challenging circumstances. Remaining in the squad for the Croatia game, they witnessed first hand from the bench, the standards that must be met to warrant playing time. Those in possession of their places will certainly do all in their power to prevent any thoughts of relinquishing their position. That is one challenge, another as they will well know, is that there are other youngsters in the wings, pushing hard to experience that elated feeling they must have had as they stepped onto the Cae Ras field. Let’s hope that this picture I am trying to imprint in your minds will be as bright as I am portraying. Only a partial one right now, can the finishing touches still to be brushed on, be strokes that produce instances of euphoric glee throughout the nation?
The Wales U-21 team were also in action last week as they played a game in the qualification series that ultimately leads to the European finals for their age group. A very good result with a draw away against the Czech Republic was achieved, additive to the two results previously obtained, it certainly places them in a good position at this time. If they can accrue an unblemished home record over the next twelve months or so, maybe they can reach those finals. The U-19’s were also in competitive action over the last week or so as they played their UEFA preliminary round group qualification matches in Montenegro. After gaining points from two creditable draws in their first couple of games, they were overwhelmed in the first half of their game against the host nation, conceding three goals. It was an obstacle they could not overcome and so elimination from the competition ensued. A young group of talented players, many of the squad will remain eligible for the one which will be assembled for next season’s competition and this experience may well be beneficial for them at that time.
Crewe Alexandra defender Zac Williams, who will celebrate his twentieth birthday in the early spring of next year, is already considered an experienced player at League One and Two levels of football. His appearance total has surpassed the half century mark and undoubtedly would have been noticeably higher but for a lengthy spell on the sidelines through injury during the second half of last season. Playing regularly for the team this season, his aim will be to help gain promotion and a return to League One football where he performed a couple of seasons ago. If successful, it will be a step up in the level of opposition compared to what he presently faces, but there is a strong possibility his destiny is to play for a team at an even higher level of performance demands. A versatile player, capable of being equally effective either as a wide or central defender along with a quality in his abilities that also offers utilization by his team in a midfield role when required. Zac has been involved in the Welsh national set up from the youngest of ages, competing at all age groups from U-15 to U-19, excepting at U-17 when the cancellation of schedules due to restrictions occurred. Selection for an U-21 squad has eluded him, a statistic that will surely be reversed at some point in the three remaining seasons of eligibility beyond this one. It is likely that it will be another stepping-stone he encounters on the path to eventual inclusion in the senior squad.
Playing in Scottish Premiership games has proven to be beneficial for quite a few young Welsh players in recent times and this season Cardiff City defender Tom Davies is one who seeks to prosper in this way during his season long loan at Kilmarnock. Tom made his Cardiff City first team debut in the 2021/2022 season when still a scholar with the club. He was given a starting assignment in a Carabao Cup tie and was the recipient of plenty of praise from his manager after completing the whole match. Though considered good enough to continue his development by becoming a professional with them, any further inclusion in the first team has not materialized, certainly in some part due to the somewhat chaotic Cardiff managerial situation and the consequent struggles of the team. Nevertheless, Tom has diligently continued to strive for improvement, part of it when he gained plenty of first team experience at Cymru Premier level with Pontypridd United in nine games during the second half of last season. His time at Kilmarnock has seen him make two first team appearances, in one when he entered the game as a half time substitute, he received an impressive rating for his performance. There seems little doubt about the belief that Tom is a capable player at that level, he has been included on the bench for the first team in all but one of their other matches and has been constantly selected for the B team. Tom has gained caps for Wales at both U-18 and U-19 levels and was involved with the U-21’s for the first time, when called up to join the squad last week.
As a first year scholar with the club last season, Rochdale defender George Nevett excelled enough to warrant first team bench time for their last two league games. He in fact made his debut in the penultimate match when introduced as a substitute in the final minutes of the game. Unsurprisingly, George is now a first team squad member, having been rewarded for his progress with elevation to become a full professional after signing a new contract in the summer. This season he has established himself as a regular starter for the team and it seems he will be amongst those players who will be an important factor in determining if Rochdale can regain their Football League status at season’s end. Regardless, this young man’s future seems to be heading in the direction of playing at higher levels of football than he has experienced up to the present. A participant in training camps for the Wales national teams in the past, George had not been selected for a specific squad until called up for the Wales U-19’s. He subsequently made his international debut during the tournament that was completed this week.
Exeter City’s second year scholar, midfielder Alfie Cunningham gained some more good experience of first team football demands when playing in last week’s EFL Trophy match that his club was involved in. A substitution replacement with a little over more than the last quarter of the game remaining, those valuable minutes were additive to the similar number of ones he was able to savour in the club’s prior tie in the same competition. In that match, his introduction onto the field marked the instance of his first team debut for the Grecians. A thrilling moment for him no doubt and I’m sure he will be striving to persuade the coaching staff that he can increasingly contribute his skills to the senior team needs in the times ahead. Alfie has had time away from his club commitments for the past three seasons as he fulfilled international duties with Wales. As a schoolboy, his first cap was collected as an U-15 team player and this was followed by further ones received with the U-16’s. Last season, he was selected for U-17 squads and played in games for that team. Defender Ed James had a starting assignment in last week’s game, having just been recalled to the club after spending the first part of the season on loan at Weston-Super-Mare. He made his first team debut in the same competition last season, during his final season as a scholar before moving to his present status as a professional. Ed’s involvement at national level occurred when he was selected to attend training camps for Wales U-15 boys a few seasons back. It may well be that the coaching staff will be in favour of another loan arrangement for Ed in the weeks ahead as a part of facilitating his development.
photo embedded from FAW cymru ]