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Squad withdrawals amid Kazan ‘nightmare’ – Belarus v Wales talking points

Wales training – Vale Resort – Tuesday 31st August
(Image credit: David Davies)

Wales resume their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign against Belarus in the Russian city of Kazan on Sunday.

The Dragons began their campaign in March by losing 3-1 in Belgium but bounced back to beat the Czech Republic 1-0 at home.

Here, the PA news agency takes a look at some of the talking points surrounding a Group E clash which is being played on neutral territory.

From Russia with scorn

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Kazan is 700 kilometres east of Moscow. So when a neutral venue was needed with Wales unable to enter Belarus because of sanctions against the Minsk government it seemed unlikely to be top of any list. But UEFA plumped for Kazan and all the resulting rigmarole due to Russian visas being required. Wales boss Robert Page has called it “crazy” and a “logistical nightmare” and three players – Ethan Ampadu, Tyler Roberts and Brandon Cooper – are absent due to not getting their visa approved in time. Page has ridiculed UEFA’s decision and said it should be “investigated further”.

Mass withdrawals

Wales v Denmark – UEFA Euro 2020 – Round of 16 – Johan Cruijff ArenA

Juventus midfielder Aaron Ramsey heads a long list of Wales players absent from World Cup qualifying duty this week (PA)

To long-time Wales fans this international camp has brought back sour memories of the John Toshack era when mass withdrawals were commonplace. Injuries, visa issues, suspensions and Covid-19 has severely depleted the squad and left Page desperately trying to make up the numbers. Page is without 10 of the 23 players who were involved in Wales’ last competitive fixture, the 4-0 defeat to Denmark in the last 16 of the Euros in June. Key players such as Aaron Ramsey, Connor Roberts, Joe Rodon and Kieffer Moore are among them.

Midfield call

Wales v Albania – International Friendly – Cardiff City Stadium

Dylan Levitt (left) pushed his claims for a Wales starting spot in World Cup qualifying against Finland on Wednesday (Nick Potts/PA)

Page did not deviate from his favoured central midfield pairing during the Euros as the two Joes, Allen and Morrell, started all four games. But Page was given food for thought by the impressive performances of Dylan Levitt and Matthew Smith during Wednesday’s goalless friendly against Finland in Helsinki. Levitt passed forward at every opportunity and the Manchester United youngster has started his loan spell at Dundee United well. Smith, on loan at Hull, also showed his sharpness following early-season action in the Championship.

Pressure stakes

Cycling – 2013 UCI Track Cycling World Championships – Day One – Minsk Arena

Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko has criticised the national team for their performances (Tim Ireland/PA)

The pressure is on Wales with the way Group E fixtures have fallen. Whereas Belgium and the Czech Republic have already had four games – picking up 10 and seven points respectively – Wales have only played twice with one win and one defeat. Wales welcome Estonia to Cardiff on Wednesday and picking up six points against the two weakest teams in the group is an absolute necessity. But spare a thought for Belarus who suffered a record 8-0 defeat to Belgium in March and are under real pressure after Alexander Lukashenko, the country’s president, this week criticised them and their FIFA world ranking of 89th.

History on Wales’ side

Wales v Belarus – International Friendly – Cardiff City Stadium

Daniel James celebrates scoring Wales’ winner against Belarus when the sides last met in a September 2019 friendly (Nick Potts/PA)

Wales have won four of their five meetings with Belarus. The first game between the two countries came in 1998, six years after Belarus’ first match as an independent nation following the split of the Soviet Union. Kit Symons scored late on in a 3-2 home win and Dean Saunders and Ryan Giggs struck in Minsk to complete a European Championship qualifying double. Both nations recorded 1-0 home victories in 2002 World Cup qualifying – John Hartson scoring Wales’ winner in October 2001. The sides last met in a Cardiff friendly in September 2019 when Daniel James scored in a 1-0 Wales win.