Wales 0 Belgium 2

Gary Speed WalesWelcome to ‘Plucky Wales shoot themselves in the foot’, episode 95 (or choose your own number).

Just when you think it couldn’t get any worse, when maybe we were on the verge of a breakthrough with a decent squad, a good performance goes to waste in cruel style. Only Wales games can produce so many ‘so-near-yet-so-far’  moments.

It all started so well. Full marks to the visiting Belgians for unravelling a ‘Respect Gary Speed’ banner in their end before and during the match. You’ll be forever given credit for a magnificent gesture. They even had the good grace to lose the fans’ match beforehand 11-2. We should have realised they’d launched a charm offensive.

Then, there was then a sermon from Mount Fifa before the match. Was I the only person who found this bizarre?

Someone read out, as if it had been printed on a tablet of stone, an earnest lecture on ‘Fair Play’ in the manner of a schoolmaster declaiming Leviticus 3:24 loudly, knowing that your life would be forever changed as you were struck by a thunderbolt of  .

I’m all for fair play and, fair play, it was very good common sense. But it was ridiculous.  Any sermon from Sepp Blatter is, er, tainted.

Anyway Fifa, fair play to you wonderful gents, did the Panorama show last year get your goat and inspire the marketing bods to respond with ‘a brainwave’?

Jolly good show.

The match

Everyone I spoke to before the match seemed scared of the Belgians and could take no comfort from the fact that we’ve got good players too. Let’s just write that again in capitals – WE’VE GOT GOOD PLAYERS TOO.

And it showed. We played really well until the sending-off. After the sending-off we continued to play really well. Passing was very good, composure was amazing. Coleman criticised the team last month against Bosnia for going forward too early and not holding on to the ball for long enough. Thoughtless play.

He was right. Last night the lesson was learned and I was deeply impressed by the guts we showed.

Talking to media types before the match, they felt the players didn’t care about Wales, couldn’t be bothered and were uninterested. With some exceptions (Church was mentioned), up their own backsides.

But I wonder if I spent several days before a big game at training and waiting if I’d be a bit listless and uncommunicative (they are footballers after all). The performance did not lack character or effort. It seemed to me that once on the pitch their professional ‘football head’ if you like, kicked in and automatically they did what they were trained for to the best of their ability.

And for me the proof was that at 1-0 down in the second half we could barely hear a peep from the Belgian fans. Seems that they could see we were playing well and the game could end in 1-1. Pigs might fly, but at 1-0 and playing as we did, it DID seem that 1-1 was on the cards.

And then, hey presto, Plucky Wales shoot themselves in the foot.

The ref

I don’t blame the ref at all. The Collins tackle, from a long way away, had me praying for a yellow card immediately.

Another bad start in an opening game – it reminded me of the Minsk match in 200o when Bellamy was red-carded in the dreadful defeat over there.

The ref wasn’t to blame for their first goal and, again, from a long way away may have g0t the free kick decision wrong but that didn’t cost us the game. So why blame the ref?

James Collins

A few years back I used to think there were two James Collinses. One played for Cardiff City at centre-back and was brilliant. The other played for Wales and in his first ten games seemed to make a bad mistake inevitably punished. The two couldn’t possibly have been the same person, it seemed.

His performances for Wales improved hugely to the point where he was bloody fantastic in Moenchengladbach, for example, and his commitment couldn’t be faulted.

In short he either had stinkers or stormers. Then, you couldn’t make it up, last night  he had a stormer for 25 minutes and stinker for a microsecond and that was enough to get him sent off. The two extremes  of James Collins’ play were captured in a 25-minute cameo that epitomised his entire career. In the history of the game that’s unusual – it’s fair to say he has a unique talent.

For what it’s worth I hope he returns after the ban. But with Darcy Blake doing so well ever since he first lined up in the side, he seems to be destined to be third choice  centre half. Will he quit Wales, seems to the question?

Chris Coleman

 Coleman’s five at the back starting line-up was common sense. Collins saved our bacon several times before throwing himself into the frying pan with a flying hack.

Then the back four were superb. Have never seen Adam Matthews, for instance, play so well. From that sending-off on, no one performed badly.

Coleman, with the game still at 1-0, then introduced attacking subs in a bid to get a point. So, tactically, he’d thought through what was required and the implementation of the plan was derailed by the sending-off.

Afterwards his defence of Collins, while wrong, was great man-management. He could have kicked him hard but he showed Collins he still had belief in him and wants him to stay in the squad. Classy.

It seems to have been difficult for Coleman to knit the squad together with the ghost of Gary Speed hanging over this side.

His forbearance in the light of what happened to Gary Speed has been exemplary – the fans singing ‘Gary Speed’s Barmy Army at matches are unlikely to change that to ‘Chris Coleman’s Barmy Army’ soon.

But I’ve been impressed with the serious dignity he has brought to the job and deserves credit.

Where now?

Well I’m off to Novi Sad. Updates to follow. For what it’s worth I fancy us to win as Serbia are on a downer and if we are to do anything in this group we have to beat sides like Serbia. A second defeat and we are in last-chance saloon. No side ever gets through the qualifiers having suffered three defeats.

For once, the marketing types have come up with an appropriate slogan ‘Time to Believe’. Last night the players performed – to my surprise – that they do, something I had doubted. Most fans

But I believe this campaign is gonna be a lot more fun than we ever suspected.

No consolation, but why couldn’t the Belgians have picked a few of their fans instead
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