euro 2012

Toshack targets strong start

September 2, 2010

John Toshack has urged Wales to get on top of Montenegro and make a flying start to their Euro 2012 qualifying programme on Friday.

Toshack believes Wales have one of their best chances of reaching a major tournament for some time as a mostly youthful squad now has experience of at least one campaign behind it.

And with games against England, Bulgaria and Switzerland to come in their group, Wales boss Toshack also feels the draw has not been too unkind.

It is imperative, however, that they start well against a technically proficient Montenegro side - who beat Northern Ireland 2-0 last month - in capital Podgorica.

Toshack said: "We do realise the importance of getting off to a good start. We are aware of the complications of this game. It will be a hostile environment and they will be very keen themselves.

"They will see this as a must-win. They are very talented players, very talented individuals. Sometimes their mentalities let them down but if you give them a sniff and they are on top of their game, they can be world-beaters.

"They used to call the old Yugoslavs the Brazil of Europe but they can drop their heads if things start to go against them. As much as we are aware of the difficulties, we do feel we are capable of getting something.

"I think in the rankings we are now fifth in this group. There won't be many fifth-placed teams that qualify but hopefully we will be able to be the exception."

The match is not a trip into the unknown for Wales having played at the same venue in a friendly a year ago. They were beaten 2-1 but that experience could now stand them in good stead.

There have been suggestions the Welsh cause will not be helped by the choice of a Greek referee for the match. Toshack is surprised by the appointment but is not overly concerned about the chosen official, Anastassios Kakos.

"The referee is just from a couple of hundred yards breaststroke down the river - Corfu," he said. "I think UEFA saved on expenses with this man, not too far from here. He has experienced Greek derbies - Olympiacos, Panathinaikos - we are quite happy to let him make the decisions he feels right.

"Over the years the Montenegrins and Greeks have got a terrific relationship together. We will just have to wait and see."

Wales have not featured in the finals of a major tournament since 1958 but are full of optimism at the start of their latest quest.

Toshack has overseen a transition during his five years in charge with several senior players stepping down and fresher youngsters coming through. He hopes they are now ready to come of age.

"The side that plays tomorrow, as much as they are young players, have got quite a number of caps under their belts now," Toshack said. "They are not really rookies. Things have happened that we couldn't have foreseen - injuries and retirements from players who really should still have a lot to offer at international level.

"It has probably taken a little longer than I would have liked but we are in this position now and hopefully we will be able to get off to a good start."

Toshack admits, however, that with expectations on the rise, there are nerves in the camp this week.

"I think they are a little bit tense," he said. "When you look at the teams in the group, it is a very open group. England would be the favourites but there is not a great deal to choose between the rest of us.

"I sense they are very keen to do well, a little bit apprehensive. That is not necessarily a bad thing and we are just waiting for it to kick off now."

One of the shining lights of the younger generation is Tottenham left-back Gareth Bale, whose outstanding form in 2010 has made him one of the hottest properties in the Premier League.

"It is not something that surprises us," Toshack said of the 21-year-old. "Two years ago when we started the World Cup qualifying campaign, the first three matches Bale was named man of the match.

"I know Harry (Redknapp) thinks he has performed some kind of miracle at White Hart Lane but he is certainly not a surprise to us. We know full well what Gareth can do."