Belfast Telegraph

Wales 0 Costa Rica 1

Perhaps it was inevitable that with so much emotion accompanying this memorial match, the Welsh players would be unable to mark the occasion with the win which would have seemed so fitting. But still, the night in honour of Gary Speed took the form of a glorious celebration.

This may have been Wales's first loss in four, but that setback had no relevance whatsoever when put alongside the narrative of the evening. A near-full crowd turned out to honour the former national manager, who took his own life last November, and sang his name from the beginning to the last. There can be no question what he meant to not only his own nation but also the game at large.

Chris Coleman, Speed's successor, would have taken absolutely naught away from this defeat to a side ranked 20 places below Wales. Missing Aaron Ramsey and a late withdrawal, Gareth Bale, they struggled to rise above the sentiment and deal with lively Central American opponents. In reality, they were fortunate to get off so lightly and we should be mighty glad of it. Speed's memory deserved rather more, although the evening could not be faulted for its dignity. The perfect mood was struck.

Speed's father, Roger, addressed the players in the dressing room before kick-off and his thoughts also featured in the programme. He paid special mention to the League Managers Association, "who have gone to extraordinary lengths to assist and support us throughout". Roger Speed, who was an ever-present whenever and wherever Gary played or managed, had a simple message for the supporters, "Knowing what Gary meant to you has intensified our appreciation in him, our appreciation of the exceptional life he had and the lasting legacy he leaves behind as testament to that life."

A variety of Welsh bands serenaded the crowd – Mike Peters's rendition of Welsh football's unofficial anthem, Can't Take my Eyes of You, going down the best – while Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau boomed around the stadium as a montage of Speed's best moments as player and manager played on the screens. Ramsey and Craig Bellamy, the stand-in captain and a great friend of Speed, led out the teams with Speed's sons, Ed, 14, and Tommy, 13.

The boys remained with the team for the national anthems, with their mother Louise and their extended family in the main hospitality box. They witnessed a minute's applause with the two sides linked arm-in-arm around a centre circle bedecked in a canvas image of Speed, while at one end of the ground cards were raised to reveal the word "Gary" on the background of a Welsh flag during the anthems.

And so the game began and so the script was ripped up in seven minutes. Talk about a wake-up and smell the coffee moment. Costa Rica's goal was made in the Premiership, Fulham's Bryan Ruiz provided a perfectly-weighted pass to pick out the Arsenal youngster Joel Campbell, who is on loan to the French club Lorient. The striker's finish was calmness personified, slotting the ball into the bottom right-hand corner.

Slowly, the home side responded and there was a cry for a goal when Steve Morison's header from a David Vaughan corner clattered the bar and rebounded straight down. But the referee, Howard Webb of England, waved play on and the Welsh went in with a deficit.

The stage was set for a fightback and within minutes Bellamy had blazed inches over the bar. Still the spontaneous applause broke out. By the finale, Ruiz and Campbell were threatening to add to the scoreline. Kenny Cunningham hit the post for Costa Rica, while all Wales had to show for their efforts was a tame shot-cum-cross from Hal Robson-Kanu, neatly turned away by Keylor Navas. Bellamy made way for Robert Earnshaw, raising the question 'Was that his last act for Wales?' In truth, it all seemed pretty meaningless. As the whistle blew, "There's only one Gary Speed" resounded across the capital.

Wales (4-5-1): Price, Gunter, Blake, Williams (Gabbidon, 72), Matthews (Ricketts, 72), Robson-Kanu, Allen (Collison, 64), Crofts, Vaughan (Ledley, 72), Bellamy (Earnshaw, 76), Morison (Vokes, 70). Substitutes not used Brown, Taylor.

Costa Rica (4-4-2): Navas, Umana, Salvatierra, Miller, Cunningham (Diaz, h-t), Barrantes, Azofeifa, Wallace (Gabas, 71), Oviedo, Ruiz, Campbell. Substitutes not used Cambronero, Mora, Brenes, Tejeda, Cubero, McDonald.

Referee H Webb (S Yorkshire).

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph