By Trevor Haylett in Cardiff
Wales are hoping that now Ryan Giggs has been declared eligible for their UEFA EURO 2004™ play-off return against Russia he can also shake off his injury worries and take his place in the lineup at the sold-out Millennium Stadium.
The teams drew 0-0 in Moscow on Saturday, a result that delighted the visitors because Russia proved to be a goalscoring force at home in the qualifying campaign. But Wales are now looking for victory on their home ground on Wednesday, and Giggs is a vital cog in that plan.
Russia have a selection problem because goalkeeper Sergei Ovchinnikov and captain Aleksandr Mostovoi are suspended after they received bookings in the first game. Without Ovchinnikov the Russian coach Georgi Yartsev will be forced to select either 17-year-old Igor Akinfeev or Viatcheslav Malafeev, neither of whom have been capped before.
The Football Union of Russia claimed that Giggs had elbowed defender Vadim Evseev and sent what they said was video evidence to UEFA headquarters in Nyon. But Europe's governing body ruled that Giggs was available to play, although he will subsequently face a disciplinary charge. However, Wales manager Mark Hughes could not guarantee that Giggs would be fit to play. "Ryan is a bit bruised and battered because of the injury that he sustained [in the first leg] but hopefully he will be there," he said.
Wales know that a 1-1 draw would see Russia through on away goals and ensure more heartbreak for a small nation who were unable to seize their opportunity ten years ago when needing to defeat Romania to reach the 1994 FIFA World Cup finals. It followed other Welsh near-misses in their attempts to qualify for the 1978 and 1986 World Cups. This time they are determined to take the final step but Hughes acknowledged that their approach had to be different from the containing strategy that served them so well in the Lokomotiv stadium.
'Seize the day'
We have to win the game whereas at the weekend the onus was not on us to go out and win, we just had to make sure we were still in the tie after the first game," he said. "This is the best-prepared Welsh team that's ever taken to the field. These opportunities happen very rarely in life let alone in football so we have to make the most of it.
The players have to seize the day."
Should Giggs and midfield player Robbie Savage declare their fitness Hughes would be able to name the same side that spiked Russia's attacking threat in the first game although he might opt for Cardiff City FC's goalscoring prodigy Robert Earnshaw. Their opponents have to make three changes in all with Andrei Kariaka left behind in Russia because of injury. Should Yegor Titov recover fitness he is likely to come in.
Akinfeev who has tasted league and European football in his inaugural year in the PFC CSKA Moskva first team said he was ready. "I do not understand why it should be different," he said. "
Only 17? So what? I have been called up for the national squad, which means the manager counts on me. It is normal that I should be ready to enter the pitch at any time."
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