WALES are just two wins away from booking their place at Euro 2016. Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) takes a look at their chances in Cyprus.
Cyprus v Wales | Thursday 19.45 | Sky Sports 1
What were you doing in the summer of 2011? Yeah, I can’t remember either. But thanks to a little bit of digging, I do know Wales were floating at a rather embarrassing 117 in the FIFA rankings. Fast forward four years and the Dragons are sitting in ninth – the first time they’ve pierced the top-10 since the rankings were introduced in 1993 and also the first time they’ve been above old rivals England.
But hey, we all know the rankings mean little. What really matters is, Chris Coleman’s side are on the verge of qualifying for Euro 2016. Wales’ one and only major international tournament visit came a whole 58 years ago but having defeated Belgium in June, the Reds can secure their place in France next summer with back-to-back wins across the next four days.
On Thursday, the first part of that job begins with a trip to sweaty Nicosia and an encounter with a feisty Cypriot side. it’s a potential banana-skin but with the Welsh sitting pretty at the top of qualification Group B, the mood in the country was summed up by former forward Craig Bellamy, who told BBC Wales this week, he is “100% certain” Wales will qualify.
The Dragons have been defeated just once in 11 outings and the way in which they celebrated their June success against Belgium suggests the players and management know they’re now on the cusp of qualification. Coleman’s charges don’t need to go out all guns blazing in the Nicosia heat; time and football is in their hands.
Joe Allen and James Chester are the Dragons’ only major absentees on Thursday; a far cry from when the two nations clashed in Cardiff. The Reds comfortably came away with a 2-1 win despite having 11 players sidelined and Andy King sent off just after half-time. The hosts were largely untroubled for 45 minutes with 10 men in a fixture that saw nine yellow cards dished out and accusations the Cypriots were out to hurt Gareth Bale.
It’s added extra spice for the GSP Stadium battle and plenty of pundits have been quick to point out that the Reds’ previous two trips to Nicosia have ended in defeat. However, both losses came when John Toshack was attempting to blood young players and it’s worth reminding ourselves that Cyprus are ranked 73 places lower than the visitors in the latest FIFA rankings.
Pambos Christodoulou’s hosts still harbour faint hopes of qualification but their form in the Cypriot capital requires plenty of surgery. The Blues have never reached a major tournament and with their sole home success in nine outings coming against minnows Andorra, their task looks tough.
Striker Demetris Christofi has netted three goals during qualification but is absent along with attacking outlet Giorgios Efrem whilst experienced 30-year-old French-born midfielder Vincent Laban is suspended. Without three key cogs available to Christodoulou, plus their poor return on home soil, it’s easy enough to oppose Cyprus.
Still, I can’t say I’m jumping to back Wales at odds-on quotes. If you do want to take the plunge, Coral’s 5/6 is the best you’ll get in the Match Odds. At a touch shorter, ticking ‘No’ in the Both Teams To Score market is available at 7/10 (Boylesports) – the visitors have kept clean sheets in four of their six outings thus far whilst at least one team has failed to net in nine of Cyprus’ last 14 matches in Nicosia.
But instead, I’m going to have a nibble on Bale to score in a Wales win at 5/2 with Ladbrokes. The Real Madrid man netted a brace against Betis at the weekend and has played a part in seven of Wales’ eight goals during qualification, scoring five times himself. In three of the four games that the Dragons have found the back of the net during this qualification campaign, Bale has been on the scoresheet
The world’s most expensive player has proven a real menace from set-pieces as well as the free role afforded to him in Coleman’s counter-attacking 3-5-2 system. It’s a ploy that could well prove dividends with Cyprus needing to play on the front foot to keep their own finals dream alive. The Score/Win double has proven profitable in two of the Dragons’ three Euro 2016 qualifying road trips already.
I am also going to have a poke on the 13/5 (Bet365) draw as a saver. Why? Well, as I’ve already said, Wales don’t need to win. The heat is bound to have an adverse effect on the fixture and Cyprus aren’t as charitable as the Match Odds suggest. If the visitors do win, Bale is bound to play a key role and so just one winner from the two selections will net us profit.
Cyprus v Wales – Gareth Bale to score and Wales to win (5/2 Ladbrokes)
Cyprus v Wales – Draw (13/5 Bet365)
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