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Thursday 14 December 2017

Woodburn gives Wales their teenage kicks

Wales’ Ben Woodburn. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire
Wales’ Ben Woodburn. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire

Who needs Bale when we've got Ben?

That's one message, a rather unconvincing one, to come from the Wales camp, ahead of their World Cup double header which finishes with a home game against Ireland on Monday, in the wake of Gareth Bale's injury.

Wales coped well enough in the absence of Bale for the qualifier away to Serbia in the summer, a creditable 1-1 draw, but the Real Madrid man's absence could be felt in the games ahead, away to Georgia (tomorrow) and at home to Ireland (Monday).

Liverpool teenager Ben Woodburn has come into the Wales side, scoring last month, and Welsh veteran Dave Edwards claims that the emergence of the 17-year-old makes up for the loss of their talisman.

"I've seen a lot of Ben in this campaign and he reminds me of what Gareth Bale was like when he was younger," says Edwards.

"And if you see what Gareth was like in the Euros, the bigger the stage, the more he thrives.

"There aren't many players who can do that when the whole world is watching," Edwards added, looking back to Woodburn's introduction last month, when he scored on his debut in Vienna and then claimed an assist in a narrow win away to Moldova.

"From what I've seen, I'm pretty sure Ben Woodburn is cut from the same cloth and he will relish the chance to show everyone he is the real deal." Edwards is one of the few survivors (along with Wayne Hennessy and Chris Gunter) from the 2-2 draw between Ireland and Wales in 2007, and Edwards insists that his nation have much more quality to call on now. "I look around at the quality and the number of Premier League players, and not just Premier League players but top Premier League players," he says.

"They proved in the Euros they can do it on the big stage. It is the best shape Welsh football has ever been in and that has got to go down to the strategy implemented 10-15 years ago." Wales arrived in Tbilisi last night to prepare for tomorrow's game (5pm kick-off, Irish time), with a strong backing as 2,000 Wales fans are expected to travel.

Norwich midfielder Marley Watkins has withdrawn from the Wales and been replaced by Barnsley striker Ryan Hedges.

Meanwhile, Bale is not as badly injured as Real Madrid and Wales first feared with medical tests revealing the winger has not torn a calf muscle. The former Tottenham player had been diagnosed with "swelling but no tear in the soleus muscle of his left leg".

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