Friday, June 25, 2021

Wales 0-0 Albania: Three things in dull affair

Veselin Trajkovic in Editorial 6 Jun 2021

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Wales and Albania played a goalless draw at the partly-filled Cardiff City Stadium on Saturday afternoon. It was a friendly encounter, or at least it should have been, though there was little actual friendliness between the players of the two countries.

Lack of creativity

A dull affair is perhaps the best phrase to describe this game. In the first half, Wales had slightly more possession, but they created practically nothing. Aaron Ramsey, their arguably most creative player, was positioned too far from the opposition goal to help get either Tyler Roberts or David Brooks, the two attackers, into a proper chance. Joe Allen and Dylan Levitt did their job well, but that consisted of putting up a fight in the middle of the park and preventing the opposition from doing anything meaningful.

Not that it was needed much; the Albanians rarely showed any attacking intent. They had only one half-chance throughout the contest, when Rey Manaj took advantage of a mistake by Chris Mapham but fired his shot from a tight angle considerably wide of the target.

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Apart from collecting a few hopeful crosses, there was practically nothing for Gentian Selmani in the Albania goal to worry about before the break.

The second half saw the hosts come out with notably more desire to get something done in the opposition third. They pushed forward looking more determined as manager Robert Page tweaked the system a bit, obviously ordering Ramsey to play further up and throwing on striker Keefer Moore from the bench. It looked even better after Gareth Bale came on in the 71st minute, but the fact remains that Wales managed only two shots on target through the entire game. One of those was a tame header, and the other was one of the two genuinely exciting moments – a blast from range by Neco Williams which Selmani barely managed to save, following closely on a similar attempt by the Liverpool right-back which flew over the bar.

Good defending or poor attacking?

That is probably the only aspect of this match that may be worth debating among the football enthusiasts. As has already been said, there was very little attacking intent from the Albanians and only slightly more from the Welsh. No creativity, no penetration, and the few attempts and line-breaking passes went astray.

On the other hand, the defenders of both teams put in fine performances. Atalanta’s Berat Djimsiti stood out for Albania, showing extreme resilience and putting in a couple of vital blocks. At the other end, Mepham (barring the Manaj half-chance), Ethan Ampadu and Ben Davies dealt with everything Albania threw at them with relative ease; though it has to be said that the visitors rarely threw anything, really. Wales may have had only two shots on target – Albania had none.

Friendly, not so much

One thing that the match did not lack was tension and hostility between the two sets of players. Even though there was no competitive significance, there were a number of conflicts between them and referee Neil Doyle of Ireland was forced to brandish the yellow card seven times. It’s even possible that the fact that it was a friendly match was the only reason the red stayed in his pocket.

Mepham, Rhys Norrington-Davies, Brooks and Johnny Williams (who miraculously remained without a booking) were particularly feisty on one side. On the other, Amir Abrashi, Keidi Bare, Manaj, Ardian Ismajli, and particularly substitute Qazim Laci, seemed only to be waiting for any opportunity to square up to someone.

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Wales’ Norrington-Davies arguably took the ‘crown’ though, as he threw Manaj on the ground at the feet of Albania boss Edoardo Reja and brought the 75-year-old down as well, causing an understandable eruption of anger from the Albanian bench.

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The main thing, as far as Wales are concerned, is that no player picked up an injury ahead of the upcoming Euros. They start the tournament on Saturday, when they face Switzerland. They will be aiming to show more than they did against Albania, if they plan on getting past the group stage.

And as for Albania, it should be said that this is not a team for the top ones to boost their goal-difference on anymore, as was the case until a couple of years ago. They have several high-quality players in their ranks and they are a well-drilled defensive unit which lost just one (to England) of their last seven matches – a remarkable feat.

Having not made the Euros, Reja’s team will play Czech Republic in another friendly on Tuesday, and then rest a bit before their players start the pre-season preparations with their respective clubs. They will get together again in early September, when they face Poland in the fourth round of the World Cup qualifications.


Veselin Trajkovic

Vesko is a football writer that likes to observe the game for what it is, focusing on teams, players and their roles, formations, tactics, rather than stats. He follows the English Premier League closely, Liverpool FC in particular. His articles have been published on seven different football blogs.



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