I am sure some of you have read that and queried one or both assertions in that short sentence. But hear me out.
Let’s take the second claim first – that Wales are in good shape. They’ve been beaten only twice in their past 10 matches (Belgium and England their only defeats) and come into the match on the back of Saturday’s 1-0 win over Mexico. Granted it was a friendly but Rob Page played an inexperienced and youthful XI and against the No.9-ranked side. The Welsh played with authority and calm – no mean feat against a team that had only been beaten once in their previous 22 matches.
Now for the first assertion – that this is a must-win match. The fact that you can brush aside a defeat away to Belgium – the best team in the world (at least according to the Fifa rankings) – is partly based on the assumption/hope that Wales get something out of each one of their home matches. Qualification for the World Cup is fierce – only the top team is guaranteed to make it to Qatar – and so victory at home against a side who will be eyeing up making it to the showpiece with as much expectation as Wales is key.
Added to that, it’s always tough playing catch up in qualifying and one, or dare I even say it, zero points after two matches is the sort of start that is hard to recover from.
Tonight’s opponents top the group having thrashed Estonia 6-2 before Saturday’s draw at home to Belgium, so make no mistake about it – Wales and Czech Republic are battling it out for second spot – assuming Belgium don’t spectacularly stumble.
Having made a raft of changes for the Mexico match, stand-in manager Page hopes to have his strongest team available.
“We’ve had two difficult games against teams in the top 10 in the world – we gave a good account of ourselves,” Page said.
“We went toe to toe in the second half against Belgium and held our own. The win on Saturday sets us up nicely and we’ll be going for the win [tonight].
“The Czechs will as well – we’ve seen them play home and away and their approach is the same – so we’ll both be going for the win and it should make for an entertaining game.”
One dark spot affecting the hosts ahead of the game has been the breaching of protocols by trio Hal Robson-Kanu, Rabbi Matondo and Tyler Roberts. They have been released as a result and are not up for selection.
Remaining unavailable due to injuries are Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen, Ben Davies and Tom Lockyer.
One piece of good news sees scorer of the winner against Mexico, Kieffer Moore, fit and able to play.
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