Rich return for Welsh youngsters at Richmond Park

Mark Pitman makes a welcome return to The Ball is Round with news of the UEFA Under 17’s latest campaign and a rare international success for Wales.

Wales U17 4-0 Liechtenstein U17 – Wednesday 19th September 2012 – Friendly

The official buzzword from the Football Association of Wales for the World Cup qualifying campaign is ‘believe’, but in recent months the only printable feeling from fans of the national team has been ‘disappointment’. With Chris Coleman’s side reeling from their recent inept performance in Serbia, an opportunity to enjoy a more successful 90-minutes watching the red of Wales presented itself in Carmarthen as the Under-17 side welcomed their Liechtenstein counterparts to Richmond Park. The bright early-evening sun compensated for the winter chill of West Wales as Geraint Williams’ young side cruised to a commanding 4-0 victory, in front of a decent crowd that the hosts would welcome for any of their Welsh Premier League fixtures.

Geraint Williams is the man entrusted with developing the next generation of Welsh internationals having taken over the intermediate team manager role from Brian Flynn. A former Welsh international himself, Williams has big shoes to fill in replacing Flynn, in a metaphorical sense of course, and this victory offered a timely boost after recent defeats for the Under-21 side and the general frustration surrounding the seniors. Assisted by Simon Davies, Williams called-on a selection of players from a variety of clubs ranging from Premier League champions Manchester City to the lesser-known Unattached. Swansea City and Cardiff City were well-represented in front of the South Wales crowd, while substitute Owain Jones of the Swans significantly boosted the attendance on his own judging by the reaction to his second-half arrival and goal.

The home of Welsh Premier League side Carmarthen Town, Richmond Park is no stranger to hosting low-key international and European games and the usual band of volunteers were sufficiently fluorescenced-up to welcome the visitors and the suited councillors of the Football Association of Wales. Traditionally one of the more progressive clubs in the Welsh Premier League, ground improvements are noticeable with each visit and the stadium offered a worthy venue for such a fixture. Free admission proved attractive to the locals and something Carmarthen and other South Wales clubs in the Welsh Premier League could learn from as they look to improve on generally falling figures through the turnstiles, the second-sell making up for the loss of hard cash on the gate. With the anthems and customary handshakes passing without controversy, referee Bryn Markham-Jones, a well-known figure in the Welsh Premier League, signalled for the match to start.

Within two minutes Wales were ahead, and their quick start set the scene for the rest of the match. An early free-kick on the edge of the Liechtenstein penalty area was crossed into the box by Kyle Copp of Swansea City for club team-mate and Wales captain Tom Atyeo to head home. Ten minutes the later the lead was doubled as Huddersfield Town’s Jake Charles, the grandson of Welsh football and Juventus legend John Charles, slid in at the back post to score from close range. Wolves winger Peter Smith proved to be a constant source of problems for the visitors on the left and his efforts were mirrored on the right by Charles as Wales dominated for long periods. On twenty minutes Copp made it a memorable debut as he added a third with a shot from just inside the area and with it confirm that his side would be the eventual and inevitable winners.

A lapse at the back did force Sheffield United goalkeeper Gareth Owen into making his only save of the game midway through the half, but Wales quickly composed themselves and continued to create chance after chance before the break. No further goals would follow before the substitutes made their way out onto the field while the dignitaries, guest and hangers-on made their way into the clubs hospitality area. A few half-time changes altered the make-up of the two teams for the second-half, the most notable being the arrival of Cardiff City’s Abdi Noor for Charles. Noor had come to prominence during Sky’s coverage of the Victory Shield tournament last season, but a year is a long time in youth football, and with an increase in his general size and strength the second-half would belong to him.

Noor showed his intentions from the start as he tormented and tortured the Liechtenstein defence with a series of mazy runs. Creating chance after chance, Wales were threatening to run riot against their inferior opponents who lacked the size and stature to compete in addition to their lesser ability. No more evident was Wales physical advantage than in midfield where Rollin Manayese, another Cardiff City youngster, towered above his opponents and most of his team-mates with his intimidating figure suggesting he could already do a similar job in the senior game despite his age. The biggest cheer of the night was saved for the introduction of Owain Jones after an hour, and he did not disappoint those who had come out to see him as he added the fourth and final goal of the night within minutes of his arrival.

Although even easier than the scoreline suggests, victory for Wales at any level or any margin over the last twelve months have been disturbingly rare, and this was a very welcome if competitively irrelevant, boost. Many questions have been asked about the attitude and commitment of senior Welsh players in light of the unacceptable displays witnessed since Chris Coleman replaced the late Gary Speed as manager, but the same cannot be said about Geraint Williams’ latest crop of youngsters to emerge from the production line. Although a comfortable victory, the match marked a number of debuts, and those pulling on the red shirt at Carmarthen will not have felt a prouder footballing moment in their lives. Maybe our current senior players could take a moment to remember when they once felt the same.

More pictures from the game can be found here.

Mark Pitman is a Welsh football columnist and blogger. Visit for a full archive or follow him on twitter/markpitman1 and on facebook/1markpitman.

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