Football: Wales 0 - 0 Czech Republic

Euro 2008 qualifierWales 0 - 0 Czech Rep. Unlucky Wales were unable to poach the goal needed to secure a win against a poor Czech side and give Ryan Giggs a winning send off.

This was excellent from Wales, disjointed from the Czech Republic. John Toshack's team were unfortunate not to gain the victory that would have been thoroughly deserved for finishing the far stronger and more convincing against increasingly insipid opponents. That would have allowed Wales to dream of making a second major finals appearance and given Ryan Giggs, playing his sixty-fourth and final international game, the perfect farewell. Instead, the winger will remember this afternoon for his own sparkling performance and a team display that offers real hope that life without him will be more than just moribund.

On 19 June next year, at just after quarter-past six in the evening Welsh time, 50 years will have passed since a 17-year-old Pele began telling the world who he was. His 66th-minute strike in a quarter-final of the 1958 World Cup was the first of 12 goals he would manage in four tournaments. But Brazil's 1-0 win over Wales in Gothenburg also signalled the end of the principality's participation in major championships. They have come mightily close since - notably to reaching the 1994 World Cup - but with Giggs retiring, there will be renewed questions over when, if ever, his country will add to that appearance in Sweden.

Yet despite boasting Giggs - who was bright during a dullish first half - Mark Hughes, Ian Rush and other notable players down the years, expectations might be a little high of a nation that numbers fewer than three million and is still rugby mad. After all, the 1958 vintage, led by the great John Charles, actually failed to qualify for Sweden initially. Only Middle East politics contrived to give them a two legged play-off against Israel, which Jimmy Murphy's men won 4-0 to take them to the finals.

Czechoslovakia, the country that beat Wales to automatic qualification 49 years ago, has since spilt into two nations, one of which provided yesterday's opponents. Karel Bruckner's team were disappointing at last summer's World Cup, but led by Tomas Rosicky, Milan Baros and Jan Koller, in front of a sparse Cardiff crowd, they indicated before the break why the Republic had eight more points than Wales's five, with a display that featured neat one-twos and excellent employment of space.

Giggs, though, began his swansong brightly. Around the 10-minute mark he forced successive corners through clever play - his reverse pass down the right to Simon Davies particularly impressive - but when he took the ensuing free-kick the effort was disappointingly high. If Wales - through Jason Koumas in midfield and Craig Bellamy in attack - did offer further flashes of cutting edge, it was the Czechs who created more danger.

On 20 minutes, Baros slipped strike-partner Koller in and only a desperate Danny Collins - who did the trick again seconds later - killed the danger. Ten minutes later and Wayne Hennessey, the Wolves keeper making a full debut, had to make a sharp save from Rosicky's fierce 25-yarder.

The morning of Giggs's goodbye had begun with former Wales team-mate Robbie Savage calling for Toshack to resign because 'he has failed'. The Blackburn midfielder, obviously still smarting at being dropped by the Wales manager, would surely have been impressed with a first half that hinted Giggs might just have the fitting send-off.

That impression continued after the restart when Giggs was even brighter. He began by getting in behind the Czech defence early on. Then, just before the hour, he had a swerving run and cut inside from the right that had the Wales fans hoping of a fantasy football finish. The shot, though, was too close to Petr Cech.

In between those moments, Koumas had won a free-kick for which central defender Radoslav Kovac was lucky not to be booked. Up jumped the West Brom midfielder and Championship Player of the Year to underline his Premiership quality. His 30-yard effort was too much for Cech, but not for the keeper's right-hand post, which saved his team from conceding.

Opposite number Hennessey then made the save of the game on 71 minutes from Marek Kulic, when Baros's half-time replacement hit a low shot that had the 20-year-old saving brilliantly low down.

But the afternoon's last bit of quality came from the man heading for his international pipe and slippers. With those fleet feet, the No 11 back-heeled delightfully to Davies. It was Wales's most convincing move. But the Fulham midfielder's shot lacked the direction that would have secured the win and added just an extra touch to Giggs's retirement.

WALES Hennessey; Ricketts, Nyatanga, Gabbidon, Collins, Ledley; Robinson, Koumas, S Davies; Giggs (Earnshaw 89), Bellamy Subs not used Evans, A Davies, Fletcher, Crofts, Llewelyn, Coyne
CZECH REPUBLIC Cech; Ujfalusi, Kovac, Rozenhal, Jankulovski; Plasil, Sivok (Matejovsky, 84) Rosicky, Polak (Jarolim 66); Koller, Baros (Kulic ht) Subs not used Pecka, Blazek, Hubschman, Zapotocny


Jamie Jackson at the Millennium Stadium

The GuardianTramp

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