In readiness for this upcoming campaign, we asked a number of colleagues and friends to Y Ddraig for their thoughts and predictions for the two opening games. These are their views and some are more positive than others!
Phil Stead. Football Writer – I think we’re going through a period of transition and while we’re exciting to watch, I think we’re pretty vulnerable. Of course, I expect us to lose both games. I always do. 3-0 v Croatia and 2-1 v Hungary.
Mark Pitman. Freelance Football Journalist – A big week in a wide-open group in which Wales remains the only undefeated team. Missing Aaron Ramsey’s creative link-up play will be a concern for Ryan Giggs, but he has compensated with an exciting crop of talented young players that push forward without fear.
Meanwhile, Gareth Bale may lack match sharpness, but he will relish the temporary freedom from the pressure pot of Real Madrid, and he will be more than ready to show his true quality with the dragon on his chest. Croatia is not the same team that performed so well in Russia last summer, and Wales have a great opportunity to make a big statement in what could be a defining double-header in this qualifying campaign.
Croatia 1-1 Wales
Hungary 1-3 Wales
Ben Leggatt. Y Ddraig. This match is a tough one to predict, and I think it will all depend on how Wales approaches the match as to how well we do. I think if we are to win the match, then we need to go out an attack from the first minute, as it’s a Croatia squad that is seemingly lacking in confidence after a few disappointing displays recently. Croatia is also missing a number of key players through injury, which I hope will help tip the balance in our favour. I still think it’ll be a tough match, but one that I am cautiously optimistic about.
For those reasons, I’m predicting a 2-0 win for Wales 😃
I feel as though this will be a very tough match, and Hungary demonstrated their capabilities with a fantastic victory against Croatia in the last match. With a number of talented players in their squad, they could cause us quite a few problems. But, with the exciting talent, we have included, I think they’ll be feeling very worried about us. I think with the attacking talent we have, we should still have just enough quality to edge past them, so I’m predicting a tough 1-0 victory, with a moment of magic deciding the game.
Dai. Coleman Had A Dream Podcast. I’m less nervous about these games than I expected to be. Croatia is a good team through midfield, but without Rebic and Rakatic they are considerably less of a threat. They’re ageing, slow at the back and against Hungary look terrified of pace – something we have in abundance. I predict a 1-1 draw there. With Rambo in the side, I think we’d beat them.
I do think we will beat Hungary 2-0. They are a side built around the break and set pieces – ironically how they got both goals against Croatia. They’ll absorb pressure and try and counter on us which I think we are more than capable of controlling. Their threat in that area comes down the right-hand side. We’ll nick an early one and then a late goal on the break when they chase an equalizer. 4 points from these two games and we’re in pole position.
Ruth. Coleman Had A Dream Podcast – For the Croatia clash, I suspect we’ll see a team near identical to the one rolled out for the Slovakia game in March. I can see this being a tight game, especially if Dan James is unable to play. His pace could be a huge asset against the ageing Croatian team. Even without the experience of two key players (Rakotic and Redic), Croatia ouse dogged competence. Prediction? This may end up a taught, rather dull 0-0 draw. But I’d more than settle for that.
Looking to the Hungary game, I think Giggs will be looking to make some changes; conscious of the effort needed for two close international games. Given Brooks and Allen are on yellow cards, I can easily see us being without those two, after a heavy game in Osijek. We struggle without two of our main-stay trio of Bale, Allen and Ramsey, so I think Joe’s potential absence could be a real issue. So making those assumptions, I’d pair Vaulks with Smith in holding midfield. Nearer the front, I’d pull Bale back a little and drop Vokes ahead. All these possible absences make me very concerned for this game, ironically more so than the Croatian fixture. I can see another dour game, with us on top but stuck with a 1-1 draw. Would love to be wrong.
Leon Barton. Podcast Pel-droed. Such a shame about Ramsey being missing. Such a good player, particularly at this time of the year! ( Euro 2016, those 3 FA Cups final wins with Arsenal) Even though we’ve never won in the Balkans and Croatia are World Cup runners up, I’d have actually felt confident about winning the game if Ramsey had been fit. Now I’d take a draw all day long. Having said that, Croatia isn’t in a great place themselves.
People talk about Bale’s poor season, but what about Modric?? Rakitic and Rabic are massive players for them – both missing. Lovren hasn’t played a minute for Liverpool since Jan (I think) and since Mandzukic retired they’ve been missing their main attacking threat (of the past decade) anyway. They’re very beatable. But I’ll say 1-1. As for the Hungary game, I am spending all my time thinking about the Croatian game, ask me after that game ends first!
Matt Evans – Football Writer – Even at this early stage of qualifying these two games give Wales a perfect opportunity to stake their name for a place in next summers Euros. The last time they travelled to Osijek to face Croatia in 2012 which resulted in a disappointing 2-0 defeat during the failed 2014 World Cup qualifiers.
The injection of youth into the squad from Giggs combined with a well-rested Bale should give Zlatko Dalic plenty to think about. They will be looking to bounce back from a surprise defeat to Wales’ second opponents who should come into the game fresh from beating Azerbaijan. I think four points from these two away games should stand Wales in good stead for what is sure to be a closely fought group.
Bryn Law. Media Star – Okay… It’ll be a strange few days for me as I won’t be working on them, so Croatia will be the first qualifier I’ve missed since Scotland away. I’m not keen on a return trip to Osijek, to be honest, it wasn’t much to write home about last time, on or off the pitch. The highlight was getting on a bus and the driver going off his route to take us to the only restaurant that was open and the owner drove us back to the hotel after the meal in his car.
I fear the same outcome in the game, I know they’re getting older as a team but they’ve got quality and nous. It’ll be noisy and hostile. It’s going to be a tough lesson for our youngsters.
I’d be more optimistic for Hungary but they’ve had a good win in their last home fixture and it’s a sell-out, so their fans seem to believe in a side that’s long been in the doldrums. I’ll be attending this one, so I’m hoping to see some of the signs that I thought were very encouraging in the Slovakia game. Pace is a killer quality so, if we can organise we’ll defensively, we’ve got a chance. Like the last Euros, clean sheets are going to be the key.
You know I don’t do predictions!
Andrew Evans. Y Ddraig. Here are my thoughts on the forthcoming wales doubleheader: Following on from a superb 1-0 victory over Slovakia in Cardiff, I have no doubt that Ryan Giggs will be looking at gaining momentum and will be looking at taking a minimum of 4 points from the forthcoming games against Croatia in Osijek and Hungary in Budapest. I feel that the current Welsh squad is certainly more than capable of achieving 4 points.
However, we will be facing two well-organised teams, who both enjoy vocal and hostile home support and will be looking to use that to their advantage. Despite possibly being group favourites Croatia has made a stuttering start to their campaign. A 2-1 narrow victory over Azerbaijan was followed by a 2-1 defeat away at Hungary. Their public will expect better and this could place some pressure on the squad. A blow for Croatia has seen Ivan Rakitic and Ante Rebic ruled out of the Wales clash and Ryan Giggs men must go there with belief that victory is possible.
There are several new faces in the Welsh camp but I am sure Giggs will opt with tried and tested experience players for these fixtures hopefully led by a Gareth Bale frustrated at recent opportunities at Real Madrid and certainly by his own standard underperformed in Cardiff against Slovakia. The Red Wall is once again travelling in force and I share their optimism. It will be a draw and win for me in the two clashes.
Darren. International Wales Magazine – It may sound negative, but the key, in what is likely to be a tight qualifying group, is to avoid defeat in these two away games.
The first few matches across the group have produced mixed results, with 4 of the 5 teams all on 3 points each.
Being the only undefeated team in Group E we need to keep it that way. With that in mind, plus the fact we’re a relatively young side with limited experience – remember Ramsey, and Chester are out – I’m going for two draws.
It’ll mean we keep both our opponents in check with our home games against them yet to come. That’ll be a good position to be in with five games to go.
Huw Davies. Football Writer. How many times have Wales gone into a crucial qualifier without one or both of Aaron Ramsey, Gareth Bale or Joe Allen? It’s Ramsey’s turn on the injury rota this time, which now has an additional column: Ethan Ampadu.
It’s absurd that an 18-year-old should already be so important to a national team, but he is, and the latest setback – seemingly attributable to growing pains – that makes him a doubt for the doubleheader could be decisive, depending on whether he recovers in time. Croatia’s three-man midfield is their greatest asset, even with Ivan Rakitic not in it, and Ampadu missing the game as well as Ramsey would surely confirm the likely scenario of Ryan Giggs opting for 4-2-3-1 rather than 4-3-3, leaving Allen and Matthew Smith with the job of looking after Luka Modric, Marcelo Brozovic AND Mateo Kovacic. Gulp.
There are also questions over the defence, although the unexpected return of Ben Davies – who’d been scheduled to have surgery – is a massive boost when the potential alternative is Ivan Perisic up against Neil Taylor, who hasn’t played in a competitive Wales match since the Chris Coleman era. The absences of James Chester and Paul Dummett mean another James Lawrence v Ashley Williams selection quandary, while Wayne Hennessey needs to prove his experience and fine international performances of late are enough to see off the challenge of Adam Davies, who is the only keeper in the squad to have been playing any club football.
On the plus side, Wales’ attack looks strong. Tyler Roberts being unavailable is unfortunate but could be a blessing in disguise, if it encourages Giggs to opt for a fluid frontline with constant interchanging between Gareth Bale, David Brooks and Harry Wilson, as well as Dan James if Giggs does pick a fourth attacker (Tom Lawrence’s poor club form has pushed him down the pecking order). Croatian left-back Borna Barisic can certainly be got at, as can Dejan Lovren through the middle. Lovre Kalinic is often unconvincing in goal, and Wales possess a number of players with a terrifying long-range shot.
Calling the Hungary game is even harder, as so much will depend on the Croatia fixture a few days earlier: fitness, form, morale and the result itself. Wales were unlucky to once again end up in a group with no gimmes – even Azerbaijan gave Croatia a serious scare in Zagreb – and Hungary have already made a mockery of their status as a Pot 4 team by beating Croatia themselves. What would normally be seen as a draw-and-get-out game for Wales should instead be seen as a must-win, which places a whole different kind of pressure on the team.
Whatever happens, it’s hard to see either game being anything other than tight. Sombre predictions: Croatia 1-1 Wales, Hungary 1-1 Wales.
Louis Moore. The Twelfth Man Blog.
I’ve been struggling all week to call the results of these two games based on our mixed fortunes in the Nations League. I don’t think there’s going to be an awful lot in it and Croatia have lost some vital players since the World Cup and their form has been patchy since, too! Hungary has also had a mixed bag of results but had a great win against Croatia so that makes it even more difficult to call either game. I’d like to think we’d get at least one win though! I’m going 2-1 Wales on Saturday and a 1-1 draw against Hungary on Tuesday!
My biggest headache though is picking a starting line-up. My heart is telling me we should start Brooks, Wilson and James behind Bale but my head is saying maybe we should chuck Vaulks or Ampadu (if fit) in there in front of the back four.
Craig Muncey. Y Ddraig. Team selections are going to be fascinating. Two games grouped close together. With players such as Ben Davies, Ethan Ampadu carrying injuries how will Giggs manage this? Does he have faith in James Lawrence to start alongside Chris Mepham in both away games or will Ashley Williams start one or two games? If Wales play a three in midfield, will he go with as a replacement to Ramsey someone like Harry Wilson, a really creative attacking player or go with a more disciplined midfielder such as Will Vaulks to compensate a quality Croatian midfield? Big decisions.
In terms of predictions, I feel that Croatia with an outstanding home record even missing Rakitic will just have too much know-how and come away with a narrow victory. I am going 1-0 to Croatia. For the Hungary game, three days later I feel more positive. Hungary is no longer the side people just look past as in previous years, they have improved, but I feel Wales will get the win. I am going for a 2-1 victory for Wales. Three points from two tough away games to start the campaign, I would be content with that. Come on Wales!