7 September 2014 15:06
Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale are set to play on Andorra’s controversial 3G turf as Wales begin their quest to reach Euro 2016.
After failing an initial test, the New National Stadium pitch was given the go-ahead by UEFA on Wednesday.
Wales have not qualified for a major tournament since 1958 when, without injured talisman John Charles, they lost 1-0 to eventual champions Brazil in the quarter-finals.
However, with UEFA having expanded the European finals from 16 to 24 teams, hope has increased that Chris Coleman’s men can end the wait.
Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cyprus and Israel complete Group B, from which the top two will qualify automatically for France 2016 and the third-place finishers will go into the play-offs.
“If we have a little bit of luck injury-wise and get our best team on the pitch, maybe we can go that one step further that no other Welsh team has done,” said Coleman. “The holy grail for us is to qualify and we’ve got a chance to do that over 10 games.
“We’ve got some really good players and one great player, but it’s about getting them fit and on the pitch.”
Coleman recently flew out to the Spanish capital to meet up with the one great player he was referring to – the world’s most expensive singing, Bale – and his club coach, Carlo Ancelotti.
“I was speaking to Carlo and he said when Madrid played on 3G pitch against weaker opposition the players struggled because they didn’t like the surface,” Coleman said. “My message to our players is, ‘Forget where we’re playing’. We’ve got to get a result and whatever the surface, we’ve got to get through it and do our job.”
James Collins, Hal Robson-Kanu, Adam Matthews and Sam Ricketts have all withdrawn from the Wales squad due to injury. However, aware that building up goal difference could be crucial against Europe’s second lowest-ranked team, Coleman will be delighted his two most prolific players are available.
Bale scored 26 goals in 44 appearances in his first season for Real Madrid, while Ramsey has found the net with admirable regularity for Arsenal.
The Wales squad includes other established names such as captain Ashley Williams, Liverpool’s Joe Allen and fellow midfielder Joe Ledley. Uncapped Tom Lawrence and Fulham’s 18-year-old George Williams are options in attack.
“The change in the amount of teams that qualify has given us a boost,” said Allen. “It is a group filled with tough teams, but we feel we can compete with them all.
“We’ve got the likes of Gareth and Aaron, who have played consistently at the highest level for their clubs, and they are going to bring that to the table for us as well, which is fantastic.
“The start is vital. We’ve got the belief and confidence we can make a good start and make big things happen in this group.
“We would prefer to play on grass, that’s what we do week in week out and it’s an obvious preference. But we’ve all played on artificial surfaces enough times to know what to expect from it, and it’s not a problem.”
Andorra have lost 44 successive competitive matches.