Wales 0-1 Uruguay: China Cup final loss still offers signs of promise
With Ryan Giggs newly appointed, the Wales team went into the China Cup with a level of optimism. Was it unfounded?
“It was a great performance against China but we will need to play even better to win the China Cup,” said Ryan Giggs last week after his side had beaten the tournament hosts 6-0. In the end, though, they failed to make the necessary step up.
On a bobbly pitch in Nanning, Uruguay’s quality and assurance told. They were, for the most part, comfortable winners.
A second-half tap-in from Edinson Cavani proved enough, and Wales were left without an outright trophy win since the British Home Championship of 1937.
But perhaps it was to be expected. Uruguay will be in the World Cup this summer and Wales will not. Uruguay finished second only to Brazil in the CONMEBOL standings, while Wales trailed behind the Republic of Ireland.
Uruguay also have an enviable attacking duo of Luis Suarez and Cavani, and an equally impressive pair of centre backs in Atletico Madrid’s Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez.
Signs of promise
Wales, then, were not favourites to lift the China Cup. They toiled for 90 minutes and occasionally threatened Fernando Muslera, but there was a sense here that they were second best.
Gareth Bale, having hit a hat-trick against China to become the country’s record scorer, could not provide the inspiration needed.
There was disappointment at the final whistle, understandably. But it should not be the prevailing sentiment after an encouraging tournament.
The victory over China was emphatic, and there were signs of promise against a Uruguay side who remain strong opposition.
A testing beginning
For Giggs, this was a testing beginning.
His appointment as Chris Coleman’s successor was criticised by many, a decision that seemed based on reputation and little else. He was inexperienced and unproven, and amongst some, unpopular.
It is far too early to make any judgements, of course, but Giggs looks to have kept things relatively settled. This was a familiar Wales side, albeit one that is undergoing a minor transitional period.
There were some familiar shortcomings, too: a lack of penetration, a paucity of ideas having fallen behind, an inability to effectively bypass a side with a low defensive block.
Giggs and his coaching team have work to do, and the former Manchester United man will likely want to make his own mark on the team.
Far from disastrous
This, though, was far from a disastrous start. Few will have complaints over the performance.
It was not inconceivable throughout, although it seemed less likely as the game progressed, that Wales might nick a goal, edge a draw and take Uruguay to penalties.
They didn’t, but, in the end, the result did not feel overly significant. There were some subdued Uruguay celebrations, a few Wales players falling to their knees as if beaten in a World Cup quarterfinal and proclamations in commentary of another missed opportunity for silverware.
But Giggs had used the latter stages, with his side a goal down, to introduce some young players.
It was a tournament final that, for Uruguay, was little more than a World Cup warm up. And for Wales it was a test: Would Giggs make an immediately positive impact? Could Wales respond impressively to the disappointment of World Cup qualification and make a statement of intent?
There are still more questions than answers.
Wales will look to move forward and build on the progression of recent years, but there is an inescapable feeling that failure in World Cup qualification and Chris Coleman’s subsequent departure signalled the end of something. It was undoubtedly a missed opportunity.
“We’ll keep learning, we’ll keep trying to progress and when the major games come around in the qualifiers, we’ll be ready,” said Giggs in the aftermath of the Uruguay defeat.
Wales fans will be hopeful that his comments are prescient.
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