By Dan Heard
Wales kick-off their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign at home to Moldova on Monday night, hoping to build on their phenomenal display at this summer’s European Championships in France.
The Dragons reached the semi-finals of Euro 2016, only to be beaten by eventual winners Portugal, surpassing even the achievements of the great team of 1958.
Now, Chris Coleman and his squad will look to harness the incredible support of the Welsh fans inside a sold-out Cardiff City Stadium once again, but will have to do so without a few familiar faces.
Star midfielder Aaron Ramsey is absent with a hamstring problem picked up in Arsenal’s 4-3 defeat to Liverpool on the opening day of the Premier League season. Jonny Williams, who impressed in his performances in an attacking role in France, and Dave Edwards also miss out through injury.
However, Coleman will be able to call on Crystal Palace duo Joe Ledley and Wayne Hennessy, who had been doubtful.
A number of players involved in the Wales squad have secured big money moves to new clubs during the summer transfer window, most notably captain Ashley Williams moving to Everton from Swansea for a reported £12 million fee. Midfielder, Joe Allen – who was named in UEFA’s Team of Euro 2016 – secured a £13 million move from Liverpool to link-up with former Wales boss Mark Hughes at Stoke.
Hal Robson-Kanu, who scored arguably one of the goals of the tournament with his Cruyff-esque turn against Belgium, was much in demand following his departure from Reading. The forward had been linked with moves to Spain and even China, before eventually signing for another Welsh manager, Tony Pulis, at West Bromwich Albion on deadline day.
Gareth Bale will once again lead the line, with his goals in the group stages at the Euro’s cementing Wales’ place in the knockout stages, and has picked up where he left off for Real, scoring twice in their first game of the La Liga season.
A number of Cardiff City players are also involved, with new signings Emyr Huws and Jazz Richards picked. Other absentees include David Vaughan, who announced his retirement from International Football before the campaign, while First-Team Coach, Paul Trollope, and Goalkeeping Coach, Martyn Margetson, have both left their posts. Trollope will focus on the manager’s job at Cardiff whilst Margetson will take up the same role in Sam Allardyce’s backroom team with England.
In their place come Kit Symonds, who returns to the post he held for most of the Euro qualifiers, and Swansea’s goalkeeping coach Tony Roberts.
Coleman, who himself was linked with the manager’s job at Premier League side Hull City, says he is fully committed to Wales in their quest to get to their first World Cup since John Charles’s side sixty years ago.
To make the best possible start, they’ll have to beat a team ranked 165th in the world, before taking on Austria, Georgia, Serbia and the Republic of Ireland to ensure that another dream becomes reality.
WALES SQUAD TO FACE MOLDOVA:
Wayne Hennessey (Crystal Palace), Danny Ward (Huddersfield Town, on loan from Liverpool), Owain Fôn Williams (Inverness Caledonian Thistle)
Ben Davies (Tottenham Hotspur), James Chester (Aston Villa), James Collins (West Ham United), Chris Gunter (Reading), Ashley Richards (Cardiff City), Neil Taylor (Swansea City), Paul Dummett (Newcastle United), Ashley Williams (Everton)
Joe Allen (Stoke City), Shaun MacDonald (Wigan Athletic), Andy King (Leicester City), Joe Ledley (Crystal Palace), Emyr Huws (Cardiff City), Tom Lawrence (Ipswich Town, on loan from Leicester City), George Williams (MK Dons, on loan from Fulham),
Gareth Bale (Real Madrid), Simon Church (Roda JC), David Cotterill (Birmingham City), Hal Robson-Kanu (West Bromwich Albion), Sam Vokes (Burnley)