A boring stalemate against a world ranked 66th team doesn’t suggest huge success is on the horizon, but Wales received a good send-off for the European Championship nonetheless.
Aaron Ramsey started his first match in Wales since October and Gareth Bale was a late substitute, but a largely experimental team struggled to penetrate Albania for long periods.
It was not a brilliant performance, but the key players managed to increase their fitness in an occasionally spiky friendly match, with Liverpool side Neco Williams getting closer to finding a breakthrough at the end. He fired a powerful shot on goal from 20 meters, forcing Albania goalkeeper Gentian Selmani to swing to the left and clear his hand unconvincingly.
At the other extreme, Wayne Hennessey, who appears poised to be the backing for Leicester’s Danny Ward at Euro 2020, was not tested in his 96th international match for his country.
The returning ‘Red Wall’ spread across all four sides of the stadium, but 6,500 fans nonetheless produced an enthusiastic rendition of Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau before kick-off.
The performance of the first half that followed was pale. Wales lacked forward momentum and got nervous all too easily defensively, with Chris Mepham, one of three players to start this game and the loss to France on Wednesday, among those looking vulnerable.
Albania striker Rey Manaj easily shook off the Bournemouth defender after finding a space between Mepham and Ben Davies, but shot out.
Robert Page had hinted at using Aaron Ramsey later on and listed the Juventus midfielder as a false nine, a tactic the Wales look will adopt in favor of a traditional striker. Harry Wilson shone in that role against Belgium in March and played there midweek, but Ramsey looked lost and ended up gravitating toward a more familiar environment in midfield. From time to time Ramsey floated in spaces of space, but his teammates weren’t on the same wavelength.
The first real vision of the goal came when David Brooks selected Ramsey from the left, with the latter deflecting a shot. No wonder Kieffer Moore’s reception was so cordial as the forward warmed up midway through the first half and unsurprisingly, Page turned things around at halftime, introducing Moore in place of Ethan Ampadu, other than it looked rusty.
Williams, available after the Welsh Football Association cleared him to play after his ridiculous red card against France, started on the right-back.
The second half had 45 seconds when the arena went eerily silent. Ardian Ismajli caught Ramsey midway and lay on the ground holding his leg for a minute before receiving medical treatment. Those in the stands, and presumably on the touchline, feared the worst, but when Ramsey rose to his feet, there was a roar of relief and he continued to seemingly calm.
How Ramsey benefited from the arrival of Moore, who provided a welcome focal point. Before leaving the court at the hour mark, along with Ben Davies and Joe Allen, who also continue to improve their fitness following injuries in preparation for Wales’ Group A opener against Switzerland, Ramsey fell to position. number 10 that he calls home. Wilson, Matthew Smith and Joe Rodon arrived as their replacements.
Then Bale came to the warmest of the ovations with 19 minutes to go. It was his name on the lips of the followers after 52 seconds. “Long live Gareth Bale,” they sang. Then it was “Wales, Golf, Madrid”, an explicit nod to the infamous flag that, it is fair to say, upset the Spanish.
One of Bale’s first acts was to send a delicious, arched cross into the box for Moore, but the Cardiff forward could only look directly at Selmani. However, Moore gave the nod to Bale and Wales finished with a jump in his step.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism