If England are among the Big Six, Wales are the Macclesfield of the World Cup…

Date published: Thursday 1st December 2022 9:17 - Ian Watson

England manager Gareth Southgate and Wales boss Rob Page.

Wales’ World Cup woes are put into context by one Mailboxer, but another reckons Rob Page blew it in Qatar. Some want Gareth Southgate gone from his job too.

Get your views in to theeditor@football365.com

 

Turn the Page
Thank God for Qatar. Because without them, Wales would have been the worst team at the tournament by far. Conservative, skittish, unfit, overawed, underwhelming. A solitary goal from a penalty, and very little else. Ethan Ampadu perhaps our only player who reached levels anywhere near his best. Neutrals understandably happy to wave us on our way back to Rhoose airport.

Qualifying for a World Cup is an outstanding achievement. Unquestionably so. Something most Welsh fans never dreamed they would see in their lifetimes, as little as six years ago. It’s just a shame that having got there, we were so impossibly passive. The security guards scanning for rainbow clothing showed more fight.

I don’t blame the players for that. Not one bit. Bale, Ramsey and Allen are the main reason we’ve come so far in such a relatively short period. If they weren’t fit, so be it. It’s the manager’s job to deal with it. Don’t play them for 97 mins+ when they’re providing as much resistance as the corner flag.

Our World Cup campaign didn’t end against an ominously good England team in 2nd gear, it ended after two games when beatable opposition were given a helping hand with poor selection and tactics. A two man midfield featuring a barely fit Ramsey? Seriously? There is no way Rob Page would have been given the job if Ryan Giggs hadn’t been forced to step down. He’s simply not at the required level. He’s proven over two tournaments that his reach doesn’t exceed his tactical grasp. He’s a proud Welshman who has conducted himself well but being liked by the players isn’t really enough.

I’m also a bit annoyed by vibe of some of the Welsh pundits. ‘We’re a small country. We have to remember that. We have a small pool of players’. Not comments made much at the Euros in 2016 and 2020 when we did well. Wales IS a small country of 3.2m. But Trindad and Tobago and Jamaica qualified with smaller populations. Uruguay has a population similar to Wales. Croatia 3.9m etc. This ‘plucky Wales’ post tournament narrative hides the fact that our squad has been poorly managed by a decent guy who lacks the acumen to maximise our talents.

Diolch Rob, but perhaps a new manager for a new era is required.
Mikey P, Cardiff

 

Wales’ place
Although I’m of course sad we’re going home, disappointed we lost to Iran, and a little concerned about who’s going to replace Bale, Rambo and Allen, I’m not angry at all. I’m proud. Proud of Wales.

Simon’s letter in the previous mailbox summed it up succinctly; we don’t even have a professional league, and yet here we are at the World Cup. Here we are getting to the semi-finals of the Euros. Here we are defying the odds.

If this was the FA Cup and not the World Cup, the England, Spain, Germany, Brazil… etc… are the likes of Chelsea, Man City & Utd, and Liverpool. Wales would be someone like Macclesfield Town. Neighbours? sure. Boisterous? If playing our local rivals Man City, then you bet we are. Ultimately though we are the sum of our parts, and ever so often we’ve been more than the sum of those parts.

The thing that I am most happy about with Wales is that, for a decade, we’ve had prime Bale and prime Rambo playing together, and we have made those tournaments and done well, and there’s not a huge amount of nations out there with one or two star players can say that. Gabon haven’t made the World Cup. Liberia never made the World Cup.

Going forward in to the EU24 Quallies, (for which I do have a season ticket!), it’ll be interesting to see how we do when we can’t rely on that key spine (Bale, Rambo, and Allen). I think they’ll be there, but I don’t think they’ll be starting all the time any more. Now is the time for Moore, James, Colwil, Johnson, Ampadu and Williams to cement their places for the next 6 years or so.

I do wonder aloud who the next Bale is, and when the next Bale is, because when you are Wales you don’t get players of that level all that often.
Dale May, Swindon Wengerite

Still #SouthgateOut
Yes, I for one remain #SouthgateOut. For clarity, I wasn’t reacting to the draw with USA, that was fully expected. I’ve been “Out” since the Euro final (and before). Nothing has changed either in his approach or my views on his limitations.

So he finally played most of the right players (and Henderson) and managed to beat a dire Wales that offered little to no attacking threat. He managed to defeat Iran who were fine but limited and who also beat Wales, but drew in fairly pathetic fashion against USA. Pretty much par for the course.

Likelihood is the brakes come back on, Rashford and Foden back out – they could have scored a hattrick each and they’d still be out – and we struggle to beat Senegal before being ripped open by France. We all know that’s likely, but why should France even be favourites?

Are Griezmann and Dembele better than two of Saka, Foden, Sterling, Grealish or Rashford? (No)

Is Mbappe (let alone Ground) a better option than Kane? (Maybe, not a better link man though.)

Midfield? (I’d call it a draw.)

Full backs? (No)

Only at centre defence are France really ahead.

While we always seem to do better on the counter, because it’s organic rather than planned or coached, we also know that we’ll spend the game on the back foot and then try to steal a goal. (I view that as stealing, it can be fun and amusing but not where England should be.)

That right there is the issue with Southgate, an underdog defensive first mentality. With our players and form, we should be going toe to toe, maybe even just putting them on the back foot. (Those moments when we do will see Mbappe and Dembele vs Maguire/Rice as soon as it breaks down, which’ll be fun.) But in all likelihood we won’t, because Southgate will revert to type with plenty of “the lads gave it their all”, “I’m proud of their effort”, “we defended well”, “we only conceded two so we should have won” or some other empty nonsense after the event.

So, sure, enjoy that we beat Wales and that we saw what could be. Just know that we won’t see it regularly until there’s a new manager. I hope I’m wrong but I see no reason to believe otherwise after 6 years.
Badwolf (wasn’t it a bit harsh taking Rashford off when he was clearly a danger and on a hattrick? Not like he’s going to start the next game is it.)

 

…I just cannot help biting on these mails that extoll Southgate’s virtues. We all know it; nice guy, comes across well, likeable, lovely – but look at his ACTUAL record in tournaments:

WC 2018 – beat Panama and Tunisia, then lost to Belgium, beat Colombia on penalties, beat Sweden and lost to Croatia in the semis – we lost to the first half decent team we played. The easiest march to a semi ever. France had to beat Argentina, Uruguay, Belgium and Croatia to win it.

Euros 2020 beat Croatia and Czechs narrowly, drew with Scotland, beat Germany in round of 16, then Ukraine in the quarters, a semi win against Denmark, then final defeat to Italy. Again, we lost to the first half decent team we played, namely Italy. Italy had to beat Belgium and Spain on their way to the final.

2022 beat Wales and Iran, drew with USA, to play Senegal – my guess is we will probably scrape through to a quarter final against France. If we beat them, I will take my hat off to Gareth, but I think we will probably lose because recent history tells me that. I hope I am wrong. I sincerely hope in a couple of weeks, someone mails in with this email and says “how wrong was this idiot?!”

Our last two tournaments have given us unbelievable luck of the draw and the main reason that we haven’t grabbed this with both hands is because our manager is, by nature, very, very cautious. A goal up after 5 minutes in the Euro final, the Italians rocking, and we take our foot off the gas. Look at our strengths in attack; Kane, Sterling, Rashford, Mount, Foden, Bellingham, Grealish, Maddison, Saka, Wilson… if this team were to be let off the leash, we could blow teams away, but we don’t, we sit back hoping not to concede, and the bigger teams work this out and beat us.

I cannot understand how anyone who regularly watches England can say any different. We fail at the first tough hurdle. Every time.

That is the criticism of Southgate – he has had extraordinary, once in a lifetime luck and the benefit of an attacking choice almost incomparable in world football, and he has, up to this point, wasted it. I don’t hate him, I don’t want to destroy him, boo him, make fun of him or the media to mock him, I just want him to play to the obvious strengths of his team!

Replace him with anyone who has led a big European team, who understands the big occasion, who has the cojones to take a few risks and the intelligence to look at a squad and pick a formation that plays to its strengths. That’s it.
Anon

England boss Southgate

Bring on 48 teams
Good article on World Cup expansion and a fair argument that it’s not an ideal format. However, I’m here to make the case for the defence. I think that expansion is worth doing and will make for a better World Cup.

While 32 teams may be a great number for a tournament, there is a significant issue with the number of slots allocated to each confederation. The World cup is very European dominated. 13 out of 32 teams, more than a third, come from Europe. Compare that to Africa which receives just 5 places, meaning less than 10% of countries in that confederation qualify.

The main argument for this is quality. There are more top quality European nations, therefore Europe should have more places. While it’s undoubtedly true that European nations are stronger, I don’t think that is what the World Cup is about. The World Cup is about a competition of nations from around the World. I would much rather watch Ghana v South Korea than Serbia v Switzerland, regardless of the perceived quality. And look at some of the games Morocco, Ghana and Cameroon have been in this year. They’ve been tremendous fun.

With it taking place only once every 4 years, many countries rarely if ever get to see their nation participate. Look at the list of African nations, with good quality teams, that are not there this year. Egypt, Nigeria & Algeria would all add something extra to the World Cup. Algeria, despite being very entertaining in 2014 and giving eventual winner Germany a scare, have only been at 2 of the last 9 World Cups.

Look at South America as well. Although there are fewer teams competing for places, they are all generally good to watch. Colombia, Chile and Peru all missed out this year, and would have provided some extra South American flair.

There’s an argument that expansion in some of the other confederations is less deserved. Qatar would probably have Qualified on merit, as would Iraq. MAke of that what you will. We’d be seeing Jamaica again in a World Cup, given they finished 6th in CONCACAF. Do they have the best quality team? No. Would it be great fun to see them at a World Cup again? Definitely.

The only way to address the imbalance is to add more teams, unless you want to take away places from Europe. Even in the new format Europe will get some extra places (only 3 though). I think that’s good though. Some may have laughed when Italy didn’t qualify this year. I didn’t. I want all the top nations (and others) at the World Cup.

I take all the points about the 48 team format not being ideal. But look at the benefits. No dead rubbers. Ever. Every single game, in every single group will be filled with jeopardy. Lose one game and you could be in big trouble. Then we get to the best bit. A 32 team knockout stage. 31 knockout games to enjoy! Imagine the drama. That I’m looking forward to.

So yes, the format has issues, but I don’t think there is any other solution that ensures we’re not adding extra games for teams to play. This year, the winners played 7 games. In 2026 it will be the same. It’s the best possible solution that allows more nations to experience the joy of World Cup qualification. So bring on 48 teams. And maybe, just maybe, Scotland will be one of them.
Mike, LFC, London

 

…Read your article on the proposed format for the world cup and wish to make a recommendation ,why not use the format for the Europa cup …..

It would work like this 12 groups of 4 , only the top 2 in each group would go through..that’s 24 I hear you ,say that’s where the Europa format would come in

The 12 2nd placed teams would go into a playoff ,along with the 4 worst performing group winners….

It could work by having grouping ,for example group A to C would be grouped together ,with the group winner with the lowest points playing the lowest of the other runner ups , for instance if group C winner has the least points they would meet the lower performing runner up in group A or B ,the runner up in C would play the team with more points from both groups,

It would make sure only half the teams qualify ….you could probably eliminate any chance of collusion ,by having all the groups that are paired , have the same kick of times .

Any thoughts?
Timi, World cup watcher

 

Pick a side
We easily beat a tricky opponent to qualify for the knockout round / we beat a really poor side as we should

We were crap against a mediocre USA who we should be beating / we did all that was needed as is good tournament management

We hammered an obdurate Iran side / we massively over performed our XG

We got to a euros final, the best we have ever done in that tournament / conservatism made us lose from a winning position in that final

We got to a World Cup semi / we lost to the first good side we actually played

So seems Southgate’s legacy. And in truth, maybe all the above are correct . Especially the ones the contradict each other. The thing with international tournament football is, there simply isn’t much of it. And it’s difficult to come up with firm conclusions. Seven (at most) games once every two years against vastly different levels of opposition in a game where so much of the result can come from a lucky bounce or questionable refereeing, probably isn’t enough to know your manager.

For my part, I think Southgate’s inherent caution and conservatism has cost where it counts, even as that same caution and conservatism is a good deal of the reason we got to where it counts. Both can be true.
Robert

 

Suggestion box
Hey F365 Statty People,

I kinda liked your article on which Prem team was winning the WC thus far… and I don’t want to create work for you guys. But given this is your work anyway, please can you make it better?

The scoring system isn’t sophisticated enough. The biggest area for improvement is that Prem teams don’t get more points for players that score goals, keep clean sheets, or win MotM. You could steal a lot from the way Fantasy Footy games work. Maybe captains even get more pts for their clubs?

Anyway, back in my box…. And here’s looking fwd to v2.0, cheers!
R

 

Not impressed
Wow, such a turnaround. With an array of Premier League talent battling the odds to overcome the Lower championship/League 1 behemoths of Wales shorn of their only decent player, this really proves that Engerland are on their way. The way they forced Danny Ward to screw up some fairly regular saves was immense.

England might squeeze past Senegal at the weekend, but France will absolutely pump them. Thankfully. What sort of pond life sings their national anthem as a football chant??
Weldoninhio, BAC

 

Calculators out for the lads
Watching the Poland – Argentina game and it’s currently 2-0 in both games.

Am I the only person who gets wound up by the #bantz around getting the calculators out? Guys, it’s not f*cking rocket science. If you can’t explain it to the audience without sounding like morons, find someone who can.

Just listened to Danny Murphy and whoever the main commentator is discussing the possibility of lots being drawn if everything is tied after disciplinary records. Murphy asks if the draw will be behind closed doors, and t’other makes a joke about them asking Murphy to do it.

Here’s a suggestion: find out the answer and tell us. I’d actually be interested to know. I would learn something.

Such poor levels of service on offer here.
Phil, Manchester

 

Absolute roaster
Danny Gabbidon sounds exactly like Tom Ketteridge. Keep expecting him to tell me how to make the perfect roast potatoes.
Phil, Manchester

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