Belfast Telegraph

Wales are in fine fettle ahead of Aviva clash: Coleman

By Phil Blanche

Chris Coleman has described Wales as in "pretty good condition" after avoiding the injury problems which have beset World Cup rivals the Republic of Ireland. The Republic have had to contend with a catalogue of injuries ahead of Friday's crunch Group D qualifier at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

Wales lost in-form Ipswich frontman Tom Lawrence to a hip injury on Monday, with his place taken by Liverpool youngster Harry Wilson.

But every member of Coleman's 23-man squad trained yesterday morning, including Liverpool's rising star Ben Woodburn.

The 17-year-old striker joined the likes of Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey at their Vale of Glamorgan base for the first time, and third-placed Wales appear in good health as they attempt to close the four-point gap on group leaders the Republic.

"We are a very good team when we're at our best and at our strongest," Coleman said. "We need these players on the pitch consistently and we're in pretty good condition.

"The squad might have looked different two or three months ago. But we've got players back, and I've picked those who have been on the front foot and are most ready for this challenge."

Bale has already scored four times in this World Cup campaign to move within two of equalling Ian Rush's 28-goal Wales record.

The Real Madrid forward's recent comeback from ankle surgery is a huge boost for Wales, as is Arsenal midfielder Ramsey's return from a calf strain.

Ramsey was arguably Wales' best player in their march to the semi-finals of Euro 2016 last summer. But his World Cup contribution so far has been minimal, with injury ruling him out of the opening three qualifiers.

"In these first four games we've only had Aaron in one of them," Coleman said. "That's tough for us, and we've only had Joe Allen for two and a bit."

This is Wales' first game since Coleman turned down overtures to take over his hometown club Swansea at the turn of the year.

And Cardiff defender Jazz Richards says that decision came as a huge boost to a squad seeking to secure Wales' first World Cup qualification since 1958.

"You can look at Gareth, Aaron, Ashley Williams and Joe Allen - all top quality players," Richards said. "But what's made us do as well as we've done is the manager.

"He was a player himself and he understands the lads.

"He's a very strong part of how well we've done over the last few years."

Rep of Ireland


World Cup Qualifying Group D:

Aviva Stadium, Friday, 7.45pm

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