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Rob Page announced his Wales squad on Wednesday ahead of the nation’s first World Cup since 1958.
There were few controversial picks given the settled nature of the team, with the big names all at the forefront of the 26-man squad as expected.
With Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey fully fit and available, Wales will head into this with plenty of optimism and anticipation.
The clash with England promises to be as fiery as ever, while games against USA and Iran are likely to decide Wales’ fate in Group B.
With little over a week until Page and his players kick off their tournament against USA, BT Sport spoke to former Wales international Robbie Savage, who gave his thoughts on the squad selection and the chance of success in Qatar.
What are your thoughts on the Wales squad?
“With the pool of players Wales have got to pick from the squad will virtually pick itself. Maybe a couple of players who’ve been in previous squads might feel unlucky to have been left out, but if you’re playing regularly in the Premier League or Championship you’re almost guaranteed to get in the 26.
"What Robert Page has to do is go with the players who know how to handle playing for their country. A few young players have got an opportunity as well.”
Was Joe Allen a bit of a surprise?
“With the squad size being 26 players you can afford to gamble, especially with someone with the quality and experience of Allen. It’s the right thing to do to take him because of the way he can impact games and receive the ball. For me it’s the right decision.”
Is Aaron Ramsey’s lack of playing time for Nice a concern?
“You can look at it one of two ways: if Ramsey and Bale were playing regularly with their injury records you would worry about them picking up an injury before the World Cup. It’s a catch 22 really: is it better them not playing before the World Cup or playing regularly. They’re two vitally important players and if Wales are going to get out of the group they’ll need Bale and Ramsey playing every game. That’s the influence they have on the team and the way they’ll be around the camp. When they both put on that Welsh shirt they seem to possess superpowers.
“That goal Bale scored for LA was a remarkable header. He’s had some football which is the biggest thing for Gareth. When he plays for Wales it’s almost like he’s going home. When they travel they’re all such a close bunch and they have spirit and desire. I’m sure they’ll have watched Michael Sheen’s speech a few times as well. We are underdogs, of course we are, but we were underdogs in the Euros when we topped the group and lost in the semis. With that Welsh spirit and fire we always have an opportunity. If Bale and Ramsey are in the squad we can beat anyone.”
Do you think the experience of the last two Euros will help Wales?
“Spending a lot of time away with the same group means you need to be close. All the detail and analysis will be key but I’m sure they’ll have a table tennis room, a pool, they’ll have their own space. One thing Wales have got is a tight bond off the pitch. There’s no superstars - Bale’s there and Ramsey but when they’re with that group they’re just another Welsh player. That’s credit to them and credit to what Rob Page has done.”
Are you slightly concerned by recent form?
“Some of the teams they’ve played in the last few games - Belgium and Holland - have been tough and it’s been close. I remember Wales losing 7-1 to the Netherlands when they had the best goalkeeper in the world in Neville Southall. Since qualifying the key thing for Rob Page has been to give players opportunities to see who he could pick for the 26-man squad. We shouldn’t look too much into form. Those games after qualifying and in the Nations League were all about picking the right team for the first World Cup game.”
What do you think is a realistic target for Wales?
“Getting out of the group is the target. It’s a tough group - Iran won’t be a walkover, USA are a young side but with some good players playing in Europe, and when Wales play England anything can happen. England will be favourites, and let’s be fair, if you’re looking at the pool of players and the quality England have, a second XI from England’s squad should still be capable of beating Wales. That’s the challenge that lies ahead. They’ve topped a group before with England at the Euros - I’m not sure they’ll do it again, but if they can get out of the group it’ll be a hugely positive achievement.”