Welsh football weekly: It is around this time in any qualification campaign that us Welsh fans dust off the household calculator, sit down with the fixture list and do our best to convince ourselves that, mathematically, we can still do it.
We ended up just three points off a play-off place by the end of the Euro 2012 qualifiers thanks to a fantastic run of form under the late Gary Speed. But in reality losing our opening matches to Montenegro, Bulgaria and Switzerland had put us out of contention by Christmas.
And we arrive in a similar scenario this week as Wales face win or bust games against Scotland and Croatia.
While the Welsh national team lost their first ever football match 4-0 in Scotland in March 1876, our most recent encounter bodes somewhat better. Gareth Bale’s last-ditch double at the Cardiff City Stadium in November gave the Dragons three precious points, while Craig Levein was subsequently sacked from his job as Scotland manager.
Now under the tutelage of Gordan Strachan, the wounded Scots will be desperate to lift themselves from the bottom of Group A. Once again, Wales will be reliant on the threat of Bale, especially given that Liverpool’s Joe Allen is out with a shoulder injury.
That loss gives an overdue opportunity to Crystal Palace’s creative midfielder Jonathan Williams, who could and should win his first international cap. Williams, who has won the nickname “Joniesta” for his technical ability, has been at the heart of the Eagles’ Championship promotion bid this year and has the ability to ask questions of the Scots’ defence whether he starts or comes off the bench.
We also need Aaron Ramsey to show the kind of hwyl and courage displayed by our countrymen at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.
But our gameplan will rely on getting the ball out wide quickly to Bale and Bellamy, who will swap sides regularly in a bid to cause confusion among the Scottish defence, seeking to cut inside and curl a shot at the far post or attack the byline and whip in a cross for the head of hard-working Sam Vokes.
If the Scots can sustain Bale and Craig Bellamy, then Chris Coleman can call upon Reading’s Simon Church and Hal Robson-Kanu, a pair of speedsters who could take advantage of tired legs later in the game.
All our potential in front of goal will only count if Wales avoid the kind of blundering mistakes that led Ashley Williams to hand Croatia their simple opening goal in Osijek last year.
Croatia, who sit second in the group with 10 points, will present a tougher task on Tuesday, yet they are not unbeatable. Especially if Wales go into the Swansea showdown with momentum from a win in Friday night’s Celtic clash.
I’ll be among a 2,000 strong army of Welsh fans setting off for Glasgow this evening. As always we travel in hope, rather than expectation, that at the end of 90 minutes the sums will still add up.
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