Wales v Switzerland: Bale embracing expectations of Euro 2016 semi-finalists

By Sports Desk June 11, 2021

Gareth Bale accepts there will inevitably be pressure on Wales to perform when they get their Euro 2020 campaign underway against Switzerland.

Wales were beaten 2-0 by eventual winners Portugal after a stirring campaign in 2016 in which they came top of their group and defeated Belgium 3-1 in the quarter-finals. Indeed, they were the first tournament debutants to reach the semi-finals since Sweden in 1992.

Bale is one of eight survivors from that squad to make Robert Page's selection, who begin a challenging Group A against Switzerland in Baku before facing Turkey and Italy.

Wales reached the quarter-finals in each of their previous two major tournaments, the other being the 1958 World Cup, but hopes are not quite as high for a side who averaged only 1.25 goals per game in qualifying, the joint-lowest among the 24 finalists alongside North Macedonia.

They are also facing a Switzerland side who reached the last 16 of the previous Euros and the 2018 World Cup, and who are on a five-game unbeaten run at this tournament (they were knocked out last time by Poland on penalties).

Still, Bale – Wales' all-time top scorer with 33 goals, who finished the Premier League season with a competition-high rate of a goal every 84 minutes – does not appear overburdened by any extra pressure to perform.

"It's similar [to Euro 2016] coming into the tournament," he said. "On the back of 2016 there should be expectations, but it's a different team and a different tournament.

"We know it's a difficult group to get out of. They are all difficult teams to play against, but we've got to take one game at a time.

"We are very excited to be here and one day away. I feel fine and ready to give 100 per cent for my country, as I always do."

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Wales – Dan James

Bale and Aaron Ramsey remain the star names for Wales, just as they were five years ago in that famous run to the final four, but Manchester United winger James offers a little more of the unknown at this level. While he only started 11 Premier League games last season, the 23-year-old created three chances and provided a fine assist for Anthony Elanga against Wolves on the final day, all from the wide-left position he tends to adopt for his country.

James also scored Wales' most recent goal, securing a 1-0 win over the Czech Republic in World Cup qualifying in March.

Switzerland – Xherdan Shaqiri

Unhappy with his playing time at Liverpool, the Euros represent a good chance for Shaqiri either to convince Jurgen Klopp of his worth or to secure a transfer elsewhere.

With five goals and two assists, Shaqiri has been directly involved in 47 per cent of Switzerland's goals at major tournaments since the 2014 World Cup and is just nine caps short of becoming the fifth player to win 100 for the Nati. Born in Gjilan to Kosovar Albanian parents, the 29-year-old is the beating heart of a polyglot squad of great ethnic diversity, and one then befits a tournament being staged right across the continent.

 

KEY OPTA FACTS

- This is the first meeting between Wales and Switzerland at a major tournament (World Cup and European Championship). In all competitions including friendlies, Switzerland have won five of their seven encounters (L2) but their last meeting in October 2011 ended in a Wales victory (2-0 at Swansea's Liberty Stadium in Euro 2012 qualfying). 
- Switzerland have scored more than one goal in only one of their 13 games at the European Championship, a 2-0 win on home soil against Portugal in the 2008 group stages.
- Gareth Bale has scored in each of his two previous appearances against Switzerland (two goals in two games).
- Aaron Ramsey was directly involved in 50 per cent of Wales' goals in their last major tournament at Euro 2016, scoring one and assisting a further four.
- Vladimir Petkovic – in charge since August 2014 – is only the second coach to lead Switzerland at three consecutive major tournaments, after Kobi Kuhn (Euro 2004, World Cup 2006, Euro 2008).

Related items

  • Pooran and Holder guide West Indies to series-levelling ODI victory over Australia Pooran and Holder guide West Indies to series-levelling ODI victory over Australia

    Nicholas Pooran has guided West Indies to a series-levelling One Day International victory despite a scare in the run chase against Australia in Bridgetown on Saturday.

    Akeal Hosein (30-3) and Alzarri Joseph (39-3) were exceptional in reducing Australia to 45-6 before the tourists rallied to 187.

    But the West Indies stumbled in their chase, slumping to 72-5 before Pooran (59* from 75) combined with Jason Holder (52) for a decisive 93-run sixth-wicket stand.

    Player of the Match Pooran was crucially dropped by Moises Henriques off Adam Zampa on 26, before making his eighth ODI half-century.

    Mitchell Starc, who finished with 26-3 from 10 overs, had dismissed Evin Lewis (1) and Darren Bravo (duck), before trapping Holder LBW but Pooran guided the hosts home.

    Earlier, Australia struggled with the bat, with Hosein dismissing Henriques, stand-in captain Alex Carey and Ashton Turner in an excellent spell.

    Matthew Wade (36) and Adam Zampa (36) rallied for Australia, before an excellent late cameo from second-gamer Wes Agar (41 from 36).

    POLLARD HAILS 'SCRATCHY' POORAN

    West Indies captain Kieron Pollard said allowing Australia to reach 187 was disappointing but hailed Pooran's determination after a "scratchy" knock.

    "What was good this time around was the fight by the guys, Nicholas Pooran getting that half-century and Jason Holder as well," Pollard said.

    "Pooran has been looking like his old self again. He was a bit scratchy tonight but sometimes that's what you need in a game like this. You want someone to scrap and I think they both scrapped well for us to come through for a victory."

    The West Indies avoided suffering back-to-back home defeats for the first time since August 2019.

    Pooran's innings also took him past 1,000 ODI runs, becoming the 39th West Indian player to achieve the feat and the joint-third fastest for the side (Viv Richards – 21, Gordon Greenidge – 23, Ramnaresh Sarwan – 27).

    AUSSIES STILL BULLISH AHEAD OF DECIDER

    Australia are unbeaten in their past six ODI bilateral series (W4, D2) against West Indies and missed out on the opportunity to seal another victory but Carey remained bullish ahead of Monday's decider.

    "Bring on game three," Carey said. "The batting group has a bit to prove to get a good score on the board for our quicks but our quicks and spinners are doing a great job."

    The stand-in skipper bemoaned Australia's top-order batting, with none of the top six scoring more than 16.

    "Obviously it doesn't help when you're five for not-a-lot," he said. "Wade and the bowlers did a great job to get us to a total and we were back in the game.

    "We took some early wickets again and the belief was there. We created opportunities and we were in the game in the back end. Unfortunately we couldn't quite close it out and it proved we were 20 or 30 short."

  • Solskjaer's new contract: Ole stays at the wheel, but can he drive Man Utd to success? Solskjaer's new contract: Ole stays at the wheel, but can he drive Man Utd to success?

    Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's working relationship with the club he loves is set to carry on until at least 2024 after he signed an extension with Manchester United.

    The deal, a pre-season boost as United prepare for a new campaign, came with a glowing endorsement from outgoing executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, who talked up the "foundations in place for long-term success on the pitch" in the official statement released by the club.

    There are obvious reasons to be so optimistic, too, considering the Red Devils finished runners-up to Manchester City in the Premier League and also reached the Europa League final.

    However, as has become a worrying trend of late, they still came up short in the quest for silverware. Solskjaer's new deal, plus the signing of Jadon Sancho, shows a high degree of faith in the current regime, but also shortens the list of excuses if the near-misses continue.

    Partnerships in football can sour swiftly if things do not pan out as hoped – the previous manager to occupy the home dugout at Old Trafford knows that only too well...

    A sign of better times after life under Mourinho

    Solskjaer has a win rate of 52.6 per cent in the Premier League since taking charge. His average of 1.86 points per game sits him third on the United list since the competition's inception, behind an undoubted club legend and a former boss who knows an extension is not always a guarantee of sticking around.

    Jose Mourinho triumphed in exactly 50 of his 93 league games in charge. In contrast to the man who replaced him, the Portuguese had early success with United as well, winning the EFL Cup and the Europa League in his first season.

    Those seemingly solid foundations subsided quickly, though. He was handed an extension in January 2018 yet was gone inside a year, dismissed amid dissatisfaction with not just results on the pitch but also the style of play. A defeat to Liverpool at Anfield proved to be the final straw.

    Mourinho fell seven games short of his Premier League century with the Red Devils, caught out by his entrenched views on how the team should be set up as he seemingly failed to grasp the club's traditions.

    Solskjaer now has his hundred within sight, a number that seemed highly improbable when he flew in from Molde to answer United's SOS (Save Our Season) call. The trip to Wolves on August 29, United's third outing in 2021-22, following on from games against Leeds United and Southampton, will see him reach three figures in the Premier League. 

    In doing so, he will become the first manager to make it to the milestone with United since Alex Ferguson. Matching his league success rate of 65.2 per cent may appear a tall order, but the team have been trending in the right direction after mixed times under the stewardship of more illustrious names.

    United's 73 league goals they scored last term were the highest tallied in the post-Ferguson era, while 12 away wins in the top flight were also the most since the Scot stepped aside. All they need to do now is work out a way to get over the hump, whether that be at home or abroad.

    Finding the balance in the quest for success

    Upon his arrival in December 2018, Solskjaer cited the "very talented squad" at his disposal. That group which struggled for points in the dying embers of Mourinho's reign went unbeaten in his first 12 league games, a run that helped the caretaker stick around in the job for a while longer.

    A Champions League away win over Paris Saint-Germain provided further ammunition to suggest the Norwegian should be retained on a permanent basis (he would receive a three-year deal). Marcus Rashford scored the winner from the penalty spot on that famous night in the French capital, one of his 52 goals under Solskjaer.

    No player has managed more than the England international, who also tops the list for appearances (128). Mason Greenwood – another product of the academy system that remains so highly valued by both club officials and supporters – has 29 goals in 105 appearances.

    There have been hugely successful signings, too, with Bruno Fernandes (40 goals in just 80 games) the pick of the bunch. Edinson Cavani, who scored 17 times in the 2020-21 season, proved an astute bit of business as well, a free transfer that paid off spectacularly as a much-needed focal point in the forward line.

    Rashford, Greenwood, Fernandes and Cavani demonstrate the "good balance" within the squad that Solskjaer mentioned in the announcement of his new contract. Sancho joining from Borussia Dortmund only adds even greater depth to the attacking options, having returned to Manchester – albeit the other side of the divide – after dazzling during his time in the Bundesliga.

    A centre-back, quite possibly Raphael Varane, would help bolster the back-line that gave up 44 league goals in the previous season, but Solskjaer has plenty to work with already.

    He spoke both prior to the end of the league season and also in the aftermath of losing on penalties to Villarreal in the Europa League showpiece about the need to strengthen the squad, calling for two or three high-profile signings.

    Sancho is certainly one of those, while Varane would tick that box as well, so it seems the much-maligned owners board are set to grant him his wish.

    United have shown faith in Solskjaer throughout and now he needs to repay them in the only way possible – by winning trophies.

  • Wilson leaves Liverpool to join Fulham Wilson leaves Liverpool to join Fulham

    Harry Wilson has ended a 16-year association with Liverpool to join Championship outfit Fulham ahead of the 2021-22 season. 

    Wilson – who has signed a deal that could see him stay at Craven Cottage until 2026 – progressed through the ranks of the Reds after joining at the age of nine. 

    The 24-year-old made just two appearances for Jurgen Klopp's first team, however, and has spent much of the past four seasons out on loan. 

    Spells at Crewe Alexandra and Hull City were followed by a successful stint at Derby County in the 2018-19 season.

    He spent a season in the Premier League with Bournemouth in 2019-20, scoring seven goals as the Cherries were relegated, while last term he was on loan with Championship side Cardiff City. 

    Wilson has been capped 29 times by Wales and featured for the Dragons in their Euro 2020 campaign, receiving a red card in the closing stages of their 4-0 last-16 defeat to Denmark. 

    Fulham also announced the signing of goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga on Saturday after he left Tottenham last month, the 29-year-old Argentine signing a two-year deal.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.