Dublin (AFP) – Wales manager Chris Coleman believes the experience his side gained in their shock run to the semi-finals of last year’s Euros will help them in Friday’s key World Cup qualifier in the Republic of Ireland.
Both Wales and Ireland are unbeaten in UEFA qualifying group D.
With three wins and a draw from four games, Ireland lead the group by two points from Serbia and four ahead of Wales, with only the leading side in each pool guaranteed a place at Russia 2018.
The Welsh have dropped points as a result of consecutive draws with Austria, Georgia and Serbia and anything other than a win in Dublin could deal a hammer blow to their hopes of automatic qualification.
But with star man Gareth Bale and Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey both fit, along with Tottenham Hotspur defender Ben Davies, Coleman could name the side that stunned Belgium 3-1 in the Euro 2016 quarter-finals for the first time since that superb display in Lille.
“People look at us now in these first four games and we’ve won one and drawn three,” said Coleman on Thursday.
“But we’ve lost one campaign game in 16. That’s the truth of the matter,” added Coleman, bidding to guide Wales to their first World Cup finals since the 1958 tournament in Sweden.
“Whatever pressure people put on them for this game is up to them, but I won’t be doing that because I trust them. Why do I trust them? Because of what they’ve done, I’m not worried what we’re up against.”
Coleman tried to downplay the significance of Friday’s fixture by insisting: “People say it’s a must-win game for us, but I won’t be saying that.
“We’re not going into this game thinking it doesn’t matter — of course it matters. But there are 18 points to play for and a long way to go.”
Wales, however, were in a similar position two years ago when they travelled to then group leaders Israel and secured a 3-0 win that set them on the road to qualifying for last year’s European Championships in France, where Coleman’s men shocked the football world by going all the way to the semi-finals.
“I think we learnt a lot from that experience,” said Wales captain Ashley Williams. “When we went to Israel they were favourites and we performed excellently.
“Ireland are top of the group and have had a better campaign than us so far.
“But we feel if we play our best game, as we have on many occasions, then we can get a result.”
Five Welsh players are a yellow card away from incurring a suspension but Tottenham Hotspur defender Davies — one of those alongside Bale, Williams, Joe Ledley and Joe Allen — insists it won’t inhibit their approach.
“You can’t let a yellow card hang over you. If you think about it during the game then it will affect your performance on the field,” said Davies, who missed Wales’s Euro 2016 semi-final defeat by Portugal as a result of collecting two yellow cards.
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