clash of the celtic cousins Wales vs Ireland: 5 talking points as Wales host the Republic of Ireland in Nations League
Wales meet the Republic of Ireland in Cardiff on Sunday as Group B4 of the Nations League nears its conclusion.
The Dragons top the group with 10 points from four games – one ahead of second-placed Finland – while the Republic have picked up just two points and are in a relegation battle with Bulgaria.
Here, the PA news agency looks at the main talking points surrounding Sunday’s game.
Will Bale ace it?
Gareth Bale is back in the swing for Wales after sitting out Thursday’s friendly with the United States. Golf-mad Bale was spotted by television cameras looking at a laptop during the 0-0 draw at Swansea and viewers instantly joked that he was watching the Masters at Augusta. But it is on the football field that Bale has constantly been above par and Wales fans are hoping he is back to his best after recent game-time at Tottenham. Bale has scored a record 33 goals for Wales but his last strike came 13 months ago.
Acid test for Page
Robert Page was thrust into the spotlight by Wales manager Ryan Giggs’ reported arrest and put in temporary charge of three November games. Page had the benefit of friendly action on Thursday before focusing on the serious business of Nations League ties against the Republic and Finland. Page, who has proved a calm figure, knows the players inside-out from his two-and-a-half-year spell as Wales Under-21 manager and being a member of Giggs’ staff for the last 15 months. The next few days, however, will put demands on him like never before.
No goals, no chance
Since Ireland famously won a World Cup qualifier in Cardiff in October 2017 courtesy of James McClean’s lone strike, they have played 19 competitive games, won only three – two of them against minnows Gibraltar – and scored just 10 goals. Defender Shane Duffy is responsible for three and David McGoldrick, who announced his retirement from international football earlier this month, is the only frontman to have found the back of the net in the meantime, and only once. With Aaron Connolly injured and Callum Robinson having tested positive for coronavirus, the likelihood of a five-game drought ending on Sunday seems remote.
No luck of the Irish
Stephen Kenny embarked upon his career as a senior international manager with high hopes of bringing a different approach to the task, but has been repeatedly hampered by circumstances beyond his control. Coronavirus protocols robbed him of the services of Connolly and Adam Idah hours before last month’s Euro 2020 play-off semi-final in Slovakia and he has lost Robinson and Alan Browne this time around. An injury list which included Edna Stevens as he named his squad has since welcomed Connolly and skipper Seamus Coleman, and midfielder James McCarthy has withdrawn for family reasons. Kenny’s fortunes must surely improve sooner rather than later.
Wales and Ireland might be part of the Celtic family but relations over the years have often been strained. This is the sixth meeting between the two nations in just over three-and-a-half years and familiarity has bred contempt on occasions. The serious injury suffered by Republic captain Coleman in a World Cup qualifier in March 2017 left a sour taste. Apart from Wales’ 4-1 Nations League win in September 2018, the games have been tight and edgy affairs with creative football at a premium. Wales lead the Republic 2-1 in recent times with two draws.