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  Wednesday, 27 March, 2002, 21:28 GMT
Wales hold Czechs in check
Wales striker John Hartson
John Hartson battled hard on his own up front
Wales 0-0 Czech Republic

Wales manager Mark Hughes gained confirmation that he has strength in depth as his inexperienced side held the Czech Republic to a goalless draw in Cardiff on Wednesday night.

The result also keeps Wales recent good run going and it is now just two defeats in the last 11 games for Hughes' men.

The signs are promising they will be able to mount a serious challenge when qualification starts in September for the 2004 European Championships.

The Czechs controlled the match for lengthy spells and created a number of opportunities at the Millennium Stadium.

But Wales can take heart from a valiant performance which will stand them in good stead when they face Germany in mid-May in their final friendly.

Wales' Nathan Blake challenges Milan Fikal
Wales' Nathan Blake challenges Milan Fikal

Andy Melville was handed the honour of leading Wales out for the first time, with the occasion made all the more special as the Fulham defender was winning his 50th cap.

The Fulham player was handed the captain's armband in the absence of the injured Gary Speed, one of 11 drop-outs from the initial 26 named by manager Mark Hughes.

In contrast, Czech coach Karel Bruckner was without only one player from his original 19-man squad, Juventus star Pavel Nedved who had withdrawn with tonsilitis.

In front of 20,000 fans, any nerves from Nottingham Forest's Darren Ward in the Wales goal were settled after just two minutes as he brilliantly turned aside a stinging drive from Liverpool striker Vladimir Smicer.

Wales, wearing their away strip of yellow and pale blue as the Czechs were in their traditional red, struggled to make any early impression on their visitors.

Wolves' Nathan Blake resorted to a blatant dive in the penalty area while under challenge from Tomas Ujfalusi of Hamburg, earning just a yellow card for his troubles from Danish referee Claus Bo-Larsen.

Nottingham Forest's Darren Ward
Darren Ward earned praise in the Wales goal

At the other end, Ward was raising the question of why there has been a gap of two years between his first cap and his second, producing a string of fine saves.

First Smicer was denied, then Milan Fukal's point-blank header was parried over the bar, with Tomas Ujfalusi of Hamburg glancing a header inches wide from the resulting corner.

The Czech Republic should have taken the lead in the 31st minute when Jiri Stajner caught the Wales defence square, setting Kaiserslautern striker Vratislav Lokvenc free.

Lokvenc was faced with only Ward to beat, but despite a powerful right-foot drive the Forest keeper stood his ground and reacted superbly to push the ball away.

Man-of-the-match Ward wasn't the only fresh face to impress, with Cardiff's young left-back Danny Gabbidon looking like he belonged in international company.

Wales only real chance before the break was a snap shot from Jason Koumas - who earlier in the day spurned the chance to join promotion-chasing West Brom from Tranmere for 2.7million - beaten away by Czech keeper Petr Cech.

Wales' John Robinson takes on Tomas Rosicky
Wales' John Robinson takes on Tomas Rosicky

Both managers rang the changes at the break but most significant was the arrival on the field for the Czech Republic of giant 6ft 8in striker Jan Koller.

The Borussia Dortmund player unsettled the Wales defence and only an offside decision saved the home side as Koller powered a header past Coyne from eight yards.

Just after the hour mark Wales had a rare chance, with 19-goal Celtic striker John Hartson flicking a header straight at Czech substitute keeper Martin Vaniak from a Koumas free-kick.

Wales had a chance to grab a late win when Koumas and replacement Simon Davies combined delightfully down the right, only for the Spurs midfielder's cross to fizz harmlessly across the face of goal.

Koller had two gilt-edged chances to grab the win for the Czechs, only to first misdirect a header, then fire a shot inches wide of Coyne's left-hand post.

Wales: Ward, Delaney, Gabbidon, Melville, Page, John Robinson, Koumas, Savage, Davies, Hartson, Blake. Subs: Taylor, Jenkins, Trollope, Weston, Coyne, Young, Evans.

Czech Republic: Cech, Fukal, Novotny, Ujfalusi, Galasek, Jankulovski, Poborsky, Rosicky, Smicer, Lokvenc, Stajner. Subs: Koller, Sionko, Holenak, Huebschmann, Vaniak, Johana, Kolousek.

Referee: Claus Bo-Larsen (Denmark)

Wales manager Mark Hughes
"The lads who have come in have done well"
Wales defender Mark Delaney
"It was a tough game"
Wales duo Darren Ward and John Hartson
with BBC Wales Sports' Rob Phillips
See also:

27 Mar 02 |  Wales
Wales look to the future
27 Mar 02 |  West Bromwich Albion
Koumas turns down Baggies
27 Mar 02 |  Wales
Melville out to impress
19 Mar 02 |  Wales
Bellamy out of Wales game
Other top World Cup 2002 stories:

Links to more World Cup 2002 stories are at the foot of the page.


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