With England already assured of a place at Euro 2020, and Irelands North and South as well as Scotland looking ahead to playoffs in the New Year, tonight is a chance for Wales to join Gareth Southgate’s men in the automatic qualification queue. To get there, they need to defeat Hungary. It’s that simple. A draw or a loss puts them in with the rest of the Celtic nations looking to qualify through the sudden death knockouts. But a win – any win – will be enough for Ryan Giggs’ side.
In terms of one-off games for future qualification, they could have asked for a lot worse. Hungary have not been the Magnificent Magyars for some time. Like Wales, they qualified for the last European Championships, but unlike the semi-finalist Dragons they were eliminated in the last 16 by Belgium. When the sides last met – in Budapest five months ago – Hungary emerged as winners, but only thanks to a solitary late goal, and Wales can’t have too much trepidation about facing this Hungary side.
Welsh defence key to their hopes
Famously, the Wales team of which Giggs himself was a member was one of the finest collections of players never to make a major tournament, and Neville Southall, Ian Rush, Mark Hughes, Gary Speed and Giggs were among the names left wondering what might have been. In many ways, the current side are not quite the equal of that one; they can’t boast a defender who’s the equal of Kevin Ratcliffe, nor a goalkeeper of Southall’s brilliance. As for strikers, any one of Dean Saunders, Rush or Hughes in their pomp would have walked into this side.
What Wales do have now is perhaps the best attacking midfield trident they could dream of. Daniel James, Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale, drawn from Manchester United, Juventus and Real Madrid, must be capable of fashioning a few chances for themselves or striker Kieffer Moore this evening. And with Wales having conceded just six goals throughout qualifying Group E, there’s a feeling that one goal could be enough to secure the three points, because Hungary are no great shakes in front of goal. 888 will give you 7/10 on there being fewer than 2.5 goals in this match, and that feels like value.
Don’t expect Wales to make it comfortable
It’s never easy to be a Welsh football fan. This is a national team that has seen more false dawns than the average Vicar of Dibley lookalike convention; alongside the bitterly disappointing last-hurdle slip against Romania in 1993, they also made a playoff for qualification for Euro 2004 and then was brushed aside by an unremarkable Russia. In Euro 2016, they went all the way to the semis and were then eliminated – and almost instantly, some of the shine seemed to slip away, with the team finishing fourth in the following World Cup qualifying group behind Serbia, Ireland and Austria.
Although Wales start this match as clear favourites, they have a habit of giving their fans palpitations even on the good nights. When you have creative players from the Premier League, La Liga and Serie A laying on chances for a striker who has one goal in 13 Championship matches, there’s a decent chance you’re going to find the evening frustrating. At Unibet, the odds on this game being level at half time before Wales go on to win sit at 17/5. That seems like monstrously good value, although there’s a decent chance it will make for a nervous 90 minutes – so even if you’re not Welsh, you can experience what they’re going through this evening.
Giggs to finally make a major competition
As a player, Ryan Giggs achieved more than most, winning Premier League titles, FA and League Cups, the Champions League and even the Intercontinental Cup. But, as previously noted, he missed out on World Cups and European Championships – at times through sheer bad luck. As a manager, he now has the chance to take his country to the promised land of a major international tournament. One winner-take-all game sits between him and the finals of Euro 2020. Can he, and Wales, take this chance?
We’re inclined to think that they will. In front of a partisan home crowd, with a side that’s more balanced in its talents than the team sheet may make it look, they should have enough to beat Hungary in a one-off game. Much though Hungary won the previous game, the side that will turn out against Wales tonight is shorn of some key players through injury and suspension. This won’t be an easy game for Wales, but it should end in victory, and we’re going for 1-0 to the hosts. You can back that outcome at 4/1 with William Hill.