Wales manager Ryan Giggs said the absence of injured midfielder Aaron Ramsey from his country’s opening Euro 2020 qualifier against Slovakia on Sunday is a “blow”.
The 28-year-old Arsenal star — who is to join defending Serie A champions Juventus next season — has returned to his club having failed to recover from a thigh injury that prevented him playing in Wednesday’s 1-0 friendly win over Trinidad and Tobago.
“We hoped Aaron would make it but he has gone back to Arsenal. It’s a blow,” Giggs said at his eve of match press conference on Saturday.
However, brighter news for Giggs is their star player Gareth Bale — instrumental like Ramsey in their run to the 2016 semi-finals which included a 2-1 group stage win over the Slovakians — will return to the starting line-up having sat out the friendly.
“I’m looking forward to this qualifying campaign for Wales,” said Bale.
“We’re ready to give everything for the jersey. We want to be playing in the major tournaments and experience again what we’ve been through. We’re going for top spot. There’s no reason why we can’t win the group.”
Bale, who will win his 75th cap, agreed Ramsey’s absence is a “big blow” but said it gives someone else a chance to stake a claim to a more permanent role.
Leeds United’s Tyler Roberts started the last two Nations League games against the Republic of Ireland and Denmark, while Harry Wilson of Derby County and Swansea’s Daniel James are both in good form.
Bale has not had an easy time of it with the Real Madrid fans this season as they have reacted to a poor campaign.
However, the 29-year-old defended his scoring and injury record this season.
“I have only had one injury,” he said. “I have been fine and playing. I’ve scored a decent amount of goals and I am raring to go.”
The Welsh face opponents who began their qualifying campaign with a 2-0 win over Hungary while top seeds in the group World Cup finalists Croatia edged Azerbaijan 2-1.
“Everybody knows how difficult it is to qualify, we have only done it twice in our history and maybe once correctly,” said Bale, referring to Wales’ qualification for the 1958 World Cup through the playoffs.
“We are always the underdogs, but there’s no reason why we can’t go on and win the group.”
Bale could be joined in the starting XI by highly-rated 21-year-old Bournemouth wing David Brooks, who had been suffering from an ankle injury but was able to take part in training.