herald

Tuesday 25 April 2017

Premier class can win it for wales

Harton sees stars Bale and Ramsey as match-winners
Former Wales star John Hartson, who was presented with the FAI International Personality of the Year during the Three FAI International Soccer Awards last Sunday
Former Wales star John Hartson, who was presented with the FAI International Personality of the Year during the Three FAI International Soccer Awards last Sunday
John Hartson and then Celtic team-mate, the current Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane, pictured during a Scottish Cup game against Clyde back in 2005

Viewed through the prism of history, Ireland have the edge over Wales when it comes to international football matches, as those Dragons have been unable to slay the Irish in their last six meetings, going back 25 years.

But forget the past, look to what's on offer now and Wales have the players to give them the upper hand, according to former Wales player John Hartson.

Now 41, Hartson has been out of the game for some time but he's no blow-in when it comes to tonight's game. He's a regular visitor to Dublin, for TV duties with Eir, while at Celtic he played under Martin O'Neill and alongside Roy Keane.

Hartson of course missed out on a major finals in his 10-year career with Wales but he feels that the current crop can follow up their Euro 2016 heroics by staying in the race for Russia 2018 - only if they avoid defeat tonight.

And he feels that the x-factor in the Wales camp from players like Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey will swing things their way.

"We're a very good side. If both team play to their maximum, we've got the star players I feel," said Hartson.

"We've got the individuals: Arsenal turned £40 million down for Aaron Ramsey two years ago from Barcelona.

"We've got them types, that's what I feel, and I don't think I'm going overboard."

Bale, who came on the scene with Wales two years after Hartson's last cap in 2005, is the key.

"He's won two Champions Leagues in the last two years. When he plays, we predominantly win. When he plays well for Real Madrid, Real Madrid predominantly win. He's a world class player, he's worth £100 million.

"We have him in our ranks. It's important we utilise him and we nurse him, we cover him up really well. If he has a good performance, he is very very difficult to stop. That's why I say if both teams play really well, I just think we have the edge. And that's not being disrespectful," added Hartson.

But pressure is on Wales after that disappointing run of three straight defeats in the group.

Admiration

"Are we under pressure? The manager doesn't think so, Chris (Coleman) still thinks there is enough points to play for. I think we're running out of games slightly," admits the former Celtic player.

"This is a big one, it's imperative we don't get beat. Well the gap (behind Ireland) goes to seven points, there is only five games to go so then the Republic of Ireland would have to lose two or three and we would have to win two or three."

Hartson speaks with deep admiration for those he knows in the Ireland set-up. "I've worked with Martin and Roy, Stevie Walford and Stevie Guppy. Their preparations are the details, their team will be very well organised, very difficult to beat," says Hartson.

But as always with this Welsh side, the talk always reverts to the man from Madrid.

"What happens when Bale comes to play for Wales, he gives the rest of the team a lift because they all know they have to raise their standards," Hartson says.

"It's like if Roy Keane was taking to the pitch tonight, the rest of the players know they must raise their game.

"Gareth has done that, when he takes to the pitch, that superstar of Real Madrid, that incredible specimen of a man he is, he is a Ferrari, he's 0 to 60 in four second, very difficult to stop.

"You have to find a way to stop Gareth. What happens when he takes to the field, the likes of Ashley Williams, Sam Vokes, they raise their game, because of the standard he plays at every week."

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