Belfast Telegraph

We always knew Liverpool star Woodburn would choose Wales over England: Coleman

By Phil Blanche

Chris Coleman was always convinced World Cup hero Ben Woodburn would choose Wales over England. Liverpool teenager Woodburn scored on his international debut as Wales beat Austria 1-0 in Cardiff, less than five minutes after coming on as a second-half substitute.

Woodburn's winner boosted Wales' qualification hopes for the 2018 finals in Russia, but he could also have played for England.

The 17-year-old had dual nationality as he was born in Nottingham and raised in Cheshire, but he has been involved in the Wales set-up since the age of 13 through his maternal grandfather. The English Football Association had twice made enquiries about Woodburn's eligibility, but the issue was put to bed once and for all when he stepped on to the pitch in the 69th-minute.

"I never thought it was going to go any other way," Wales manager Coleman said.

"We're in a privileged position because we've spoken to his family. He's always declared himself Welsh, to play for Wales and he's been with our younger teams through the age groups. We've seen him coming through.

"I know there was talk of Ben playing for England but that was outside our little group and we can't control that. But I didn't put him on because I thought he can't go anywhere now. I would never do that.

"I would never take a gamble on a young player. If I thought he was going to be out of his depth I wouldn't put him through that. It wouldn't be fair on him. I put him on to add something to us, and he certainly did that."

Woodburn has had a meteoric rise even though he doesn't turn 18 until next month. He made his Liverpool debut against Sunderland last November and three days later became the club's youngest-ever goalscorer - at the age of 17 years and 45 days - when he was on target against Leeds in the EFL Cup.

Woodburn then started his first Premier League game in a 2-1 Liverpool win at Stoke in April. And Coleman revealed he probably would have featured in the World Cup qualifier against Serbia in June but for injury.

"You never know with young players how it's going to fall," Coleman said.

"They show a lot of early confidence but you can go left or right. Young players have got a long way to go."

Woodburn is part of an exciting batch of Welsh youngsters, many of whom have already broken in to the senior squad.

Rob Page's under-21 side also recorded a 3-0 victory in Switzerland to kick off their European Championship campaign on Friday.

But after Wales trimmed the gap to Group D's second-placed team, the Republic of Ireland, to two points, Coleman was quick to praise his senior players.

"Ben's got some young players around him who are going to be joining him very shortly," Coleman said.

"I could list quite a few names and it's all very positive for us. But we already have the Golden Generation.

"The players who have produced and done something different in getting to a major tournament (Euro 2016)."

  • Moldova v Wales, World Cup Group D qualifier: Zimbru Stadium, Tomorrow, 7.45pm

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