A blog on the risk of suspension facing Wales in their final two qualifiers.
It was proving to be a frustrating campaign for Wales, but Chris Coleman’s unwavering belief in his side was vindicated in the last round of 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers as six points from a possible six moved Wales into second place in their group. Two down and two to go, but while the mathematical permutations may yet prove to be Wales’ toughest opponent, there is another issue rearing its ugly head.
The UEFA EURO 2016 experience was an incredible time in Welsh football history, and despite the disappointment of the eventual semi-final exit, the annuls of time will dictate that the memories will only be positive when the events of last summer are reflected upon by all those who were part of the overall experience. However, for two players in particular, there will be overwhelming feeling of regret and of what might have been, as the influential duo of Ben Davies and Aaron Ramsey were forced to miss the final game against Portugal through suspension.
A suspension for collecting two yellow cards across the previous five fixtures for two combative players can be considered harsh in the modern game, but the rules are clear. Davies produced one of the defining moments of the finals with his early block to prevent Slovakia taking the lead in the opening game, while Ramsey’s midfield creativity brought the best out of players like Joe Allen and Gareth Bale as Wales defied the odds to reach the last four. Both players were missed when the tournament came to an end for Wales in Lyon, and how different things might have been if they had been available will remain a long-standing debate for years to come.
However, Chris Coleman has again repeated his proven mantra for success by stating that it is all about the next game, and next month Wales head to Georgia for another crucial match. The permutations of play-off qualification dictate that only a win will do ahead of the final game against the Republic of Ireland in Cardiff, and while Coleman will only allow his players to focus on the task ahead in Georgia, both Davies and Ramsey will be very aware that they are once again just one booking short of a suspension that would rule them out of that potentially decisive qualifier.
Two bookings in 11 games should not equal suspension for the play-off. That is patently absurd. If anything it’s an OK ratio for a defender.
— Huw Davies (@thehuwdavies) September 8, 2017
In addition, Joe Ledley, Jazz Richards, Andy King, James Chester, Hal Robson-Kanu and captain Ashley Williams all find themselves in the same situation, and if tensions boil over in Tbilisi, then Coleman could find himself with a decimated squad for that last game. Williams was asked about the position he finds himself prior to the match against Austria in Cardiff earlier this month, and emphasised that it is not something he can let affect his game. However, given that the stakes are so high heading to Tbilisi, some careful management may be necessary from Coleman if his side can put themselves in a commanding position without falling foul of the match officials.
But Georgia will not be an easy prospect, and after showing their credentials against Wales in the 1-1 draw in Cardiff earlier in the campaign, they outplayed the Republic of Ireland for long periods recently and will be a difficult proposition with their own fans behind them. However, Wales had to produce to keep qualification possible in the last international break, and with Coleman’s future likely to depend on the fortunes of his side in this campaign, his player will not go down without a fight. But as much as that sort of spirit is exactly what is needed, it is also the sort of approach that can lead to a mistimed tackle or an unacceptable show of aggression.
Wales suffered heavily through suspension when Ben Davies and Aaron Ramsey were forced out of the semi-final against Portugal last summer, and Coleman will not want his tenure to end over a similarly avoidable situation with his side heading into the final match against the Republic of Ireland without the availability of key players. Wales were successful in qualifying for EURO 2016 as the best players were available throughout the campaign, but it has been a very different story this time around, and the number of suspensions and injuries suffered has already resulted in too many dropped points.
But as much as Wales need Davies and Ramsey against the Republic of Ireland, they will also need both players to be at their best against Georgia, or the final match could well prove to be insignificant. It is a fine balancing act that Coleman must contend with, but all he can do is focus on the next challenge and deal with the aftermath once the necessary three points have been claimed. With two successive wins achieved, Wales now need to take that positive momentum into the next two, and hope that suspension history doesn’t repeat itself when the defining final match comes around.