Wales have announced their 26-man squad for their first World Cup appearance since 1958; Joe Allen has not played for Swansea City since September due to a hamstring injury but he has been included; Rangers winger Rabbi Matondo misses out
Allen, with 72 caps, has been part of so much of Wales’ success stories of the recent past but a hamstring injury has kept him out of contention for Swansea City since mid-September.
Head coach Rob Page has named the 32-year-old among his list of midfielders, with Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey both unsurprisingly included despite relatively little game-time this season.
Wales’ 26-man World Cup squad
Goalkeepers: Wayne Hennessey (Nottingham Forest), Danny Ward (Leicester City), Adam Davies (Sheffield United).
Defenders: Ben Davies (Tottenham) Ben Cabango (Swansea City), Tom Lockyer (Luton Town), Joe Rodon (Rennes, on loan from Tottenham), Chris Mepham (Bournemouth), Ethan Ampadu (Spezia, on loan from Chelsea), Chris Gunter (AFC Wimbledon), Neco Williams (Nottingham Forest), Connor Roberts (Burnley).
Midfielders: Sorba Thomas (Huddersfield), Joe Allen (Swansea City), Matthew Smith (MK Dons), Dylan Levitt (Dundee Utd), Harry Wilson (Fulham), Joe Morrell (Portsmouth), Jonny Williams (Swindon Town), Aaron Ramsey (Nice), Rubin Colwill (Cardiff City).
Forwards: Gareth Bale (Los Angeles FC), Kieffer Moore (Bournemouth), Mark Harris (Cardiff City), Brennan Johnson (Nottingham Forest), Dan James (Fulham, on loan from Leeds).
Bale has only played 327 minutes for Los Angeles FC since his move to Major League Soccer in July, but he scored in the MLS Cup penalty shoot-out success last weekend against Philadelphia Union.
“I’m not really bothered how fit Gareth Bale is,” Page told Sky Sports. “He’s come off the back of scoring a really important goal for LA, he’s back in the country and he’s fit.
“Every time he turns up for us he’s always delivered, so I have no worries whatsoever. With Joe Allen, we’re going to throw everything at him to give him the best opportunity of getting in the first game.
“He’s been involved with Wales for years and he’s really important to how we want to play.”
Ramsey scored on his debut for Nice in August but has since only made six starts for the Ligue 1 club.
Elsewhere, Sheffield United goalkeeper Adam Davies has only received three caps but is included again having been the third-choice stopper behind Danny Ward and Wayne Hennessey at the delayed Euro 2020 Championships.
Page admits leaving Rhys Norrington-Davies and Tyler Roberts out of his World Cup squad were two of the toughest decisions he had to make.
Norrington-Davies’ absence has been enforced by a hamstring injury, while Roberts has just one goal in 12 Championship appearances for QPR this season.
“I had to speak to Rhys Norrington-Davies and he was devastated because this injury that’s put him out is quite a long-term one, so I’ve just been there to support him,” Page added.
“He’s going to miss out but that was taken out of my hands. Tyler was probably a little bit touch and go, he’s doing his best to get back.
“Tyler was a difficult one because I know how much it means to him and he’s a great lad.”
Rangers winger Rabbi Matondo misses out having failed to score in 17 appearances in Scotland since his summer move from Schalke.
Page explained why he chose to leave out Matondo, saying: “It’s been a frustrating time for him. I think he was playing his best football when he was in Belgium.
“If he’d have been playing week in, week out, scoring goals and creating chances like he was in Belgium then it would have been a really difficult decision for me.”
Wales’ only previous World Cup finals appearance was in Sweden in 1958, where they lost to Brazil in the quarter-finals.
Wales’ first game in Qatar will take place on Monday November 21 against USA at 7pm UK time on the second day of the tournament at the Ahmed bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan.
The same venue will host Wales’ second group game against Iran on Friday November 25 at 10am as well as the final group match against England on Tuesday November 29 at 7pm.
The knock-out stage begins on Saturday December 3.
‘Page true to his word with squad of few surprises’
Sky Sports News senior reporter Geraint Hughes:
“So, Rob Page has been saying for the best part of the last fortnight, there will be no surprises, he was true to his word.
“Page has gone with the tried and tested, and in doing so has been loyal to the players who performed for him during qualification for the World Cup and during the various Nations League campaigns.
“I might as well start by confirming the collective sigh of relief throughout Wales when they saw Gareth Bale’s name on the squad list, but the toughest selection was probably that of Joe Allen. Two weeks ago, Rob page told me Joe had less than a 10 per cent chance of making the squad, but in that time, Allen’s rehab has gone far better than expected, and he makes the squad. He’s in the squad, not just for his footballing experience and talent, but he’s a wise head.
“Interestingly when I asked Page if Gareth Bale was fit enough to play three games every four days during the group stages, the Wales manager dismissed the question. It wasn’t in an irritated way; he was just making the point that it doesn’t matter.
“Bale’s last few years at Real Madrid and now at LAFC have all been about two things – getting Wales to the World Cup and being able to lead them at a World Cup. For Bale, he has achieved that aim of getting onto the plane fit enough to lead Wales at the World Cup.
“Clearly I could sense the difficulty Rob Page had in telling players who weren’t selected they had missed out; he clearly didn’t like doing it. If he could have, he would’ve taken a squad of 30+ players to Qatar, but he couldn’t. However, it didn’t take away from his body language when talking about the players that missed out, not only are they hurting, but you felt Page was hurting as well.
“Wales’ squad announcement was more than just a formal declaration of the 26 players going to Qatar, it was a celebration. It was a unique occasion, in fact, a unique day. Wales have waited so long to be at a World Cup and with the current generation of players they have, they are determined not to waste the opportunity on the pitch, but also all opportunities off the pitch as well.”
Earnshaw: Johnson can star at World Cup
Former Wales striker Robert Earnshaw on Sky Sports News:
“It’s been interesting because Rob Page has played with the lone striker and he’s also played with the front three with two wide guys who stick to the flanks.
“Sometimes it’s Gareth Bale on the right with Dan James on the left and Kieffer Moore through the middle.
“Brennan Johnson has recently played so it’ll be interesting to see how he goes. Moore has sometimes been on the bench with Bale up front floating and producing his magic.
“I think this could be a tournament for Brennan Johnson as he’s now in the Premier League playing and I’ve seen him over the past couple of years growing. It’s now about the next step, and who is going to come out of the shadows to take the team forward as part of the next generation.
“I feel that could be Johnson.”
Bowen: Bale’s presence gives Wales belief
Former Wales international Mark Bowen on Sky Sports News:
“The whole Welsh nation is very excited with two weeks away from the opening match. It’s been a long time coming but there’s a lot of quiet expectation.
“It’s a culmination of the way Welsh football has gone over the last few years ever since the famous Euros expedition we had under Chris Coleman.
“There’s been a bit of quiet expectation building over the years because we’ve realised we have potentially a good, young squad with the sprinkling of stardust Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey give. We’ve got matchwinners in the squad. The whole nation is certainly behind them.
“Bale has this unique ability to be in the right place at the right time. He only needs a cameo performance, it’s what the Welsh team garner from his presence on the pitch. It seems to give everyone an extra lift and belief just knowing he’s on the pitch. It’s a unique situation to have an iconic player in their midst they can look towards.
“I think we can be very confident. With World Cup groups you can’t look too much as being favourites or second to qualify because tournament football is difficult.
“The first game against USA is a key game. Whatever happens, don’t get beat in that first one because you give yourself a bit of a mountain to climb.
“Obviously the huge game is against England but that’s the last one. It’s about making sure we get through the first two and pick up enough points to give ourselves a chance of going through in that last game.”
What is Wales’ potential route to the final?*
If Wales win Group B….
Sunday December 4 – Last 16: Wales vs Ecuador (Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor; kick-off 7pm)
Saturday December 10 – Quarter-final: Wales vs France (Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor; kick-off 7pm)
Wednesday December 14 – Semi-final: Wales vs Belgium (Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor; kick-off 7pm)
Sunday December 18 – Final: Wales vs Netherlands (Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail; kick-off 3pm)
If Wales finish second in Group B…
Saturday December 3 – Last 16: Netherlands vs Wales (Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan; kick-off 3pm)
Friday December 9 – Quarter-final: Wales vs Argentina (Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail; 7pm)
Tuesday December 13 – Semi-final: Wales vs Brazil (Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail; kick-off 7pm)
Sunday December 18 – Final: Wales vs France (Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail; kick-off 3pm)
*Based on highest FIFA world ranking finishing top of respective groups and winning knock-out games