2022 World Cup: Gareth Bale and four other Wales players to watch

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It’s taken 64 years but, finally, Wales are back at the Fifa World Cup™.

Despite that record-breaking gap between appearances, manager Rob Page travels to Qatar with a squad boosted and battle-hardened by two impressive continental campaigns. Reaching the knockout stages at the last two Uefa European Championships was no mean feat, and the key men from those squads remain in place.

Now, with a few hugely talented youngsters lining up alongside established stars like Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey, there are high hopes of making a similar impact at Qatar 2022.

As the tournament draws ever closer, we highlight five players who will be well worth following as Wales make their long-awaited return to the global stage.


Position: Forward
Age: 33

Captain, all-time record goalscorer and so much more besides, Bale remains Wales’ undisputed talisman. It also says everything that this five-time Uefa Champions League winner and three-time Fifa Club World Cup champion tends to save his best and most influential performances for when he’s wearing a red shirt.

Everyone remembers the flag that famously proclaimed the order of his priorities and affections, and Bale himself has never hid the extra energy he finds when playing for Wales. “When a fan plays for your national team you kind of bring that passion with you,” he has said. “It is such a special bond between the players, the staff, the fans… even the media are a little bit nicer to us! It’s just a special country to be a part of.”

If the country is special, so too is its star player. Bale may be 33, but he showed during qualifying, with vital goals, driving runs and spectacular set pieces that he is as vital to the Welsh cause as ever. Former Wales star Dean Saunders spoke for a nation when he described the Los Angeles FC attacker as his nation’s greatest-ever sportsman. “Honestly, I know he’s in a team but he’s single-handedly put our football team on the map,” said the former Liverpool striker. “We’ll never have a player like him ever again.”

Given all that, and his advancing years, Wales plan on enjoying this all-time great for as long as they possibly can. A World Cup should be the perfect stage on which to showcase and savour Bale’s talents.


Position: Winger
Age: 24

First, he was dubbed “the next Gareth Bale”. The hype surrounding James then went into overdrive when Manchester United paid £15 million to sign him as a teenager after just a season of second-tier football.

It hasn’t all been straightforward since – he swapped Manchester for Leeds in a £25 million deal, then joined Fulham on loan – but the electrifying pace that prompted those Bale comparisons remains a potent weapon in Wales’ attacking armoury. Having made his name as a winger, James has also been deployed as a centre-forward by his national team and could well be seen in that role in Qatar.

“Dan is not an out and out striker,” manager Rob Page has said. “But he’s a talented footballer with unbelievable pace who can score goals and create chances. He also makes opposition defenders drop deep, which in turn creates more space for our creative players in the middle of the park.”


Position: Forward
Age: 21

Johnson is another young attacker to whom considerable hype has been attached. Page went as far as to dub him “the future of Welsh football”, and there are plenty who share those lofty expectations.

Like James, the Nottingham Forest star brings a number of offensive tactical options to Wales, having excelled as a traditional striker, in a wider role and as a creative No10. Excellent technique, ball-carrying ability, movement and work-rate have established him as one of the hottest attacking prospects in English football, and while he may start as a substitute in Qatar, don’t assume that will diminish his effectiveness.

As Page has said: “No defender in world football that would want to see Brennan Johnson coming on with 15 minutes to go. He’s a wonderful talent.”


Position: Midfielder
Age: 31

Long considered the Robin to Bale’s Batman, Ramsey hasn’t always been in the shadow of his more celebrated team-mate. He was widely considered Wales’ best player when they reached the semifinals at Euro 2016, starred again at Euro 2020 and has served up some vital goals in qualifying in between.

A succession of national coaches have built their engine rooms around this multi-talented midfielder. Gary Speed made Ramsey captain when he was still just 20, Chris Coleman lauded him as “world-class” and Ryan Giggs said he had the talent “to play anywhere in Europe”.

But while Juventus agreed, reportedly making him one of the ten highest-paid players in the world, that lucrative 2019 move proved disastrous for both player and club. Now, after a similarly disappointing loan spell at Rangers – in which he missed a decisive penalty in the Uefa Europa League final – Ramsey is aiming to rebuild his career with French club Nice.Should he do that, and avoid the injuries that have plaqued his career, this box-to-box midfielder is sure to be a key man as Wales attempt to upset the odds in Qatar.


Position: Wingback
Age: 21

Neco Williams joined Liverpool at the age of six. He would still be at Anfield, too, if Jurgen Klopp didn’t agree with the universal assessment that the youngster is simply too good to be spending his time on the bench, deputising for the immovable Trent Alexander-Arnold.

“It’s not easy to let him leave, but he deserves to be playing regularly and he’s earned the right to be ready for his international team [for the World Cup],” the German said after reluctantly sanctioning a £17 million move to Nottingham Forest. “He’s achieved so much already but there is even more to come.”

Klopp added that this “bright and exciting talent” was already “one of Wales’ most important players”, and that assertion is almost certain to be borne out in Qatar. Whether it’s as a full-back or a wingback, on the right or the left, Williams brings athleticism, ball-carrying ability and genuine attacking threat in wide areas.

Those attributes, and the youngster’s burning desire to make an impression on the global stage, ensure he will well worth watching when Wales make their World Cup return.

Source: supersport.com  

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