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Thursday, 13 February, 2003, 09:42 GMT
Future is bright for Hughes
Robert Earnshaw with Cardiff City team-mate Rhys Weston
Earnshaw is pointing Wales in the right direction

Mark Hughes' men booked their place in the history books with Wednesday's 2-2 draw against Bosnia.

That result was the ninth unbeaten game - the best run of games without loss in Welsh international football.

Hughes used the game to prepare his team for the tough Euro 2004 qualifiers against Azerbaijan and Yugoslavia - now renamed Serbia-Montenegro.

Hughes was able to gauge his team's ability to deal with the type of threat that the two Group Nine teams are likely to pose.

He also gave some of the younger and less experienced players in the Wales squad the chance of experiencing playing at the Millennium Stadium.

BBC Sport took a look at those players. Although they may not be the first name on Hughes' team-sheet, each one will play an important role in the quest to qualify for their first major tournament since 1958.

Darren Ward

Nottingham Forest keeper Darren ward
Darren Ward earned a rare start in goal

The Nottingham Forest goalkeeper was handed the chance to start in goal against Bosnia.

He only played the first half, but Hughes will be reassured that along with first-choice goalkeeper Paul Jones and Middlesbrough's Mark Crossley, Wales have strength in depth for the number one position.

Rhys Weston

With Aston Villa's Mark Delaney facing three months out, the Cardiff City player took his place at right-back. International football is a big step up from Division Two and Weston was made to learn fast.

Rhys Weston is Cardiff City's right-back
Weston joined Arsenal as a trainee before moving to Cardiff

You can't afford to make mistakes at this level and his lack of experience showed. He often gifted the opposition too much time and sat off his man instead of challenging for the ball.

Weston did show, however, that with some careful nurturing from the Wales camp, he will continue to develop and provide much needed cover at right-back.

Robert Earnshaw

The chant "Ernie's going to get you" often echoes around Ninian Park, and once again the pint-sized scoring machine set the Millennium Stadium crowd alight with a wonderfully taken equalizer.

Earnshaw scored his second Wales goal in four games
Earnshaw played right wing against Bosnia

That was his second goal in just four senior appearances. There is no doubt that Earnshaw's goals will see him play regularly at the very highest level, but both he and the Welsh public should not expect too much too soon.

Earnshaw's blistering pace makes him a constant threat going forward, but he has to give equal attention to his defensive duties in Hughes' system - Weston's problems were amplified by a lack of cover in front of him.

Yet Earnshaw will continue to mature and is almost certain to be on the plane to Portugal should Wales qualify.

Matthew Jones

Matthew Jones in action for Leicester
Jones returned for Wales after a long spell out due to injury

The Leicester City midfielder made a welcome return to the Wales camp following a long season out due to injury. A versatile player, he took over form Weston at right-back and looked comfortable on the ball.

Jones is in fine form for his club, who are pushing for promotion back to the Premiership. If they achieve that, Jones will continue to get the experience he needs to maintain his place in Hughes' long-term plans.

Jason Koumas

Although he didn't have long to impress the Wales manager, Koumas showed he had the class needed to control midfield.

Koumas adds to Wales' midfield strength
Jason Koumas has been in great form for West Brom

Wales already have an explosive ball winner in Robbie Savage, but Koumas showed that when given the chance he will utilise his passing ability and unlock defences with telling balls.

That is exactly the sort of ammunition that John Hartson, Ryan Giggs, Simon Davies and Craig Bellamy require upfront.

So the future looks good for Wales. For the first time in many a year Wales have players challenging for places.

That sort of competition can only be healthy, keeping all players - including those who many would expect to start - on their toes.

Hughes has a very good mixture of players. He has both youth and experience, pace and power.

Hopefully this current group of players will extend their unbeaten record. If they do manage to maintain their momentum through the European qualifiers, who knows what might happen in Portugal?

Wales manager Mark Hughes
"They caused us problems and I wanted them to"
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12 Feb 03 | Wales
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