Wales u19s 1 Czech Republic u19s 0

Fascinating to think how far Wales’ junior sides have come as they scrapped and scrabbled and huffed and puffed to somehow hang on for this undeserved win.

It’s not like it used to be.

Twenty years back, in Bulgaria, one Wales under-21 player insulted a fan – who’d braved a blizzard in Plovdiv to watch the side play – so obnoxiously and so personally he was lucky to leave Sofia with all teeth intact.

In Winterthur, Switzerland, in 1999, we watched aghast as an alleged professional hit two corners into the side netting and strolled back upfield without a care in the world, admiring the scenery perhaps, when one of us should have jumped on the pitch and kicked him up the jacksy.

Back then, the under-21s fielded several players – dozens even – whose body language suggested they’d rather be anywhere else, getmethefuckoutofhere, and the results backed that impression up. Just check them out.

Then several years ago, playing for a Wales fans’ side in Ukraine, we fielded a super player from Tredegar whose Beckhamesque corners and general play caused havoc.

“Yeah, I was in junior Wales squads when I was younger. Didn’t really enjoy it as I got older. Then I packed in when I discovered drink – I like those two-litre bottles of cider.”

“How old were you when that happened?” I asked.

“Fourteen,” he said.

Still, at least he could drink for Wales.

That was when I gave up hope on our national youth and wondered about the set-up, despite the Ramsey-Collison-Church side of a few years ago which could have been seen as a happy accident. But it seems like I was wrong.

Bristol City's Elijah Chilekwe
Bristol City’s Elijah Chilekwe, right, challenges for the ball

Reassuring evidence came this week with two wins over the Czechs – a country of the highest football pedigree – the first a 2-1 victory on Tuesday.

Someone blessed Cyncoed with glorious morning sunshine – not that it made much difference as Cardiff Met’s 3G surface hosted its second international in less than 48 hours.

 This lot need singing lessons – our anthem sounded like a dirge. But there’s plenty of time to work on that.

And perhaps they were saving all that energy for the game as Wales spent most of the first 40 minutes defending.

The winner was a shock – I’d finally walked round to film visitors’ efforts as a Welsh goal seemed as unlikely as meteorte shower.

Over the years many Wales goals have taken fans by surprise and this was up there with the most improbable.

A corner wasn’t cleared and a ball across goal was netted by Sam Williams.

He and fellow centre-half Ryan Leak, of Wolves, had been fortunate to escape yellow cards for rash challenges earlier in the half, and the lead was fortuitous.

It was built on a marvellous defensive effort, especially down the Welsh right where Aaron Lewis put in a great shift. For me the man of the match for his first-half effort alone, and no surprise to find out later that he’s on Swansea’s books. His confidence and passing had that Jack class about it.

Wales u19s v Czech Republic u19s
Goalscorer Sam Williams, of Cardiff City, puts in a cross
There was plenty to admire – and even a revelation. There is a Joe Ledley mini-me in the squad. Bearded Blake Davies, of Bristol Rovers, is a dead ringer for the A team Sasquatch and here’s hoping he makes it to a full Wales cap, in the same side as Ledley,.These hipsters, they’re everywhere, they’ll be running the world soon.

Our opponents fielded a David Luiz lookalike at centre- half – Alex Kral. Decent player as were most of the visitors who,perhaps lacked a calm head in front of goal.

And they faded as the game progressed. Tiredness crept in and , unusually for a Wales game they made more unforced errors and misplaced passes than we managed. That’s proof of our progress in itself. 

Carlisle keeper Rhys Williams was so sloth-like in his goal kick preparations that it will be no surprise if he one day picks up two yellows for deliberate dawdling and gets sent off for time-wasting.

Had this been a competitive game rather than a friendly, both Williams boys and Leak might well have been booked and the outcome could have been much different.

A decent game then and in ten years time we’ll be able to see how many graduate to a full Welsh cap. No doubt there’ll be at least one who ends up in central midfield at Hednesford – there nearly always is.

But it would be great if several go on to impressive careers.

At the end, the whistle brought relief and acknowledgement of our good fortune. Lucky Wales, doesn’t happen too often. But also, plucky Wales. Welsh manager Geraint Williams approaching his Czech counterpart Pavel Hoftych did that snaky thing people do with their hand to indicate a close-run thing and said: “Could have gone either way.”

He knew.IMG_4668

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