Verdict: Wales win
Best odds: 4/6
The second round of international friendlies building up to the European Championship is being played this weekend, and Wales will be welcoming Albania to the Cardiff City Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The preparations for the upcoming tournament aren’t going as well as Robert Page, in charge of the Wales team, would have hoped. They played against world champions France on Wednesday and lost 3-0, as Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele made Karim Benzema’s early penalty miss irrelevant. Leicester City goalkeeper Danny Ward saving the Real Madrid striker’s spot-kick was arguably the only bright moment for the Welsh, who played almost three quarters of the match with 10 men after Liverpool defender Neco Williams earned a red card for handling the ball inside the box.
However, Wales shouldn’t be too bothered with that result. It was always going to be impossible to avoid a thrashing against the world champions with a man less on the pitch. They’ve shown in recent tournaments that they have the quality necessary to compete at a high level, most notably in 2016 when they reached the Euro semifinals. There are a couple of names in their ranks which every opponent will be taking seriously.
Wales start their involvement at the Euros on Saturday next, when they face Switzerland at the Olympic Stadium in Baku, Azerbaijan. They play Turkey four days later, before squaring up to the group favourites, Italy.
Despite these matches being friendlies, Williams is suspended for the Albania clash for the red card against France. Wales have appealed against it, but the decision hasn’t been reached yet and as things stand, the right-back will miss out.
Gareth Bale, Daniel James and Harry Wilson are all set to keep their spots, with Aaron Ramsey and Ben Davies potentially starting as well after coming on off the bench against France.
Albania have actually had a very good run of results in their most recent matches, but they won’t be appearing at the Euros, having failed to qualify for the tournament. They finished fourth in Group H of the qualifications, behind France, Turkey and Iceland, and better only than Andorra and Moldova.
The opening three matches of the 2022 World Cup qualifications saw them beat Andorra and San Marino, with a defeat at the hands of England squeezed in between. Their last game was the one against San Marino, in which they had a total of 26 shots (compared to San Marino’s four), but it took them 63 minutes to break the deadlock through Rey Manaj, before Myrto Uzuni scored the second with five minutes to go.
Manaj is likely to start again upfront, alongside the country’s top scorer Sokol Cikalleshi.
However, it will be interesting to see which of the three uncapped goalkeepers manager Edoardo Reja goes for in Cardiff. Alen Sherri, 23-year-old KF Laci man, could perhaps get the nod, having shown promise at the Under-21 level.
Looking at the quality of the two teams, or the difference in quality, to be precise, it seems anything but a comprehensive Wales win would be a huge surprise here. However, the hosts will likely be looking to avoid injuries and may not overexert themselves with a week left before the Euros.
Whatever else may happen, it’s hard to imagine too many goals in this one.
Verdict: Wales win
Best odds: 4/6
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