PICTURE by Richard Birch.
THIS week I had the honour of going to cover the Wales under 21’s matches right here in Bangor on behalf of the North Wales Chronicle.
The under 21’s came to play a double-header at Bangor City’s VSM stadium as part of their 2019 European Championship qualifying campaign, with the major tournament set to be held in Italy in a year and a half’s time.
The young dragons first took on Bosnia & Herzegovina’s under 21’s side on Friday, November 10. They lost this one 4-0 and were completely outclassed by the visitors who were altogether more physical and simply wanted it more on the night.
They then faced group 8 leaders Romania and were held to a frustrating 0-0 draw against the visitors who went down to nine-men. Romania are top of group 8 so I think if you’d have offered Wales a point before the game they may have taken it, but they’ll be gutted that they couldn’t capitalise on the two red cards that went in their favour.
The team has, unsurprisingly, came under criticism after claiming just the one point in their two matches up here in north Wales and manager Robert Page was visibly frustrated by the results.
HOWEVER, I would say that the backlash has been a little unfair on these youngster. I believe that the future of Welsh football is in safe hands and here’s why …
The under 21’s may come away from Bangor feeling like they’ve let themselves and their country down, but they shouldn’t dishearten too much in my opinion. Friday was a shambles granted, but Tuesday showed far more optimism and indicated just what these youngsters can do.
Liverpool winger Harry Wilson was particularly impressive in both matches at Nantporth. Time and time again he showed what he could do with the ball at his feet, from playing a brilliant ball to a team mate through to running past defenders with ease. He looked like a player who could go on to big things.
Forward Tyler Roberts, who is on loan at Walsall from Premier League side West Brom, showed his strength up top too, displaying a brilliant first touch and ability to hold the ball up well. The only thing missing on his part was a goal, as the effort was certainly there but the execution wasn’t.
Others such as Manchester United defender Regan Poole, Swansea’s Joe Rodon, Leicester’s George Thomas, Manchester City’s Rabbi Matondo and Tranmere Rovers goalkeeper Luke Pilling also starred in the double-header at Bangor and impressed at times.
Brentford’s Chris Mepham, captain against Romania, was awarded Sgorio’s Man of the Match award at the end of the game and was superb throughout, working tirelessly in the middle of the park.
Add those just mentioned to the current crop of youngsters who are breaking into the senior side at such young ages; Ben Woodburn (18), Ethan Ampadu (17) and David Brooks (20) and you have a pretty strong contingent of players for the future.
I can see Wilson, Mepham and Poole all breaking through within the next year if things go to plan. With that said, here’s how I think the team could look in the next five years (if we were to completely change the starting eleven):
Goalkeeper: Luke Pilling (Tranmere). Defenders: Joe Rodon (Swansea), Ethan Ampadu (Chelsea) and Regan Poole (Manchester United). Midfielders: Harry Wilson (Liverpool), David Brooks (Sheffield United), Chris Mepham (Brentford), Tom Lawrence (Derby County). Forwards: Ben Woodburn (Liverpool) and Tyler Roberts (West Brom).
Not the best team in the world by any means, but still a pretty damn good one.
Of course, it all depends on whether or not some of these youngsters will ever get the chance to break through to the senior sides first, both at their clubs and on the international stage.
As a Welshman, I can sense that there are good times ahead for us. We may have missed out on qualifying for World Cup 2018, but we will be back and when we are we might just be stronger than ever before.