Talking points as Wales start Euro 2024 qualifying campaign in Croatia

Wales start their Euro 2024 qualifying campaign with a tough assignment against Croatia in Split on Saturday.

Croatia are big favourites after finishing third at the 2022 World Cup, while Wales are rebuilding after the departures of several key players since the tournament in Qatar.

Here, the PA news agency looks at the main talking points surrounding the Group D fixture.

Life without Bale

Gareth Bale File Photos
Wales must face up to life without record goalscorer Gareth Bale, who retired from football in January (Martin Rickett/PA)

How do you solve a problem without Gareth Bale?

On the back of a disappointing World Cup where they failed to win a game and finished bottom of the group, Wales have lost their talismanic captain, record goalscorer and most capped player.

Bale was so often the difference for Wales, especially in the big games. Nottingham Forest forward Brennan Johnson is seen as Bale’s natural heir, but they are surely impossible boots to fill.

Return of captain Ramsey

Wales Press Conference – UEFA Euro 2024 – The Vale Resort
Aaron Ramsey is the captain of Wales again – 11 years since last holding the job on an official basis (Ben Birchall/PA)

The retirement of Bale, as well as Chris Gunter, Joe Allen and Jonny Williams quitting the international scene, has left Wales in a transitional phase and five uncapped players are in the squad.

Aaron Ramsey is captain again after first being handed the role as a 20-year-old by Gary Speed.

Ramsey was relieved of the captaincy within 18 months by Speed’s successor Chris Coleman, and his subsequent experience makes him far better suited to the role this time.

Page scrutiny

Wales v Iran – FIFA World Cup 2022 – Group B – Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium
Wales manager Rob Page says mistakes were made at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar (Adam Davy/PA)

Wales manager Rob Page says mistakes were made at the World Cup and that he has addressed them before the start of Euro 2024 qualification.

High on the list of Welsh errors in Qatar was tactical naivety as the lack of numbers in midfield allowed the opposition to play through Wales at will.

Page has credit in the bank after steering Wales to a first World Cup in 64 years, but that will quickly disappear if the European Championship campaign hits the buffers.

Majestic Modric

Croatia v Brazil – FIFA World Cup 2022 – Quarter Final – Education City Stadium
Real Madrid’s Luka Modric is still going strong for Croatia at the age of 37 (Mike Egerton/PA)

When Bale retired, Wales fans had good reason to utter: ‘Why not Luka Modric?’

Bale’s former Tottenham and Real Madrid teammate has plotted Wales’ downfall in previous World Cup and European Championship qualifiers.

Now 37 and still strutting his stuff at Real Madrid, Modric has decided to carry on playing for Croatia ahead of this summer’s Nations League finals.

A decision on whether he continues until the Euro 2024 finals will be made at a later date.

Winless Wales

Soccer – 2014 World Cup Qualifier – Group A – Wales v Croatia – Liberty Stadium
Croatia players, pictured here celebrating a 2014 World Cup qualifying victory in Swansea, have never lost to Wales in six matches (Nick Potts/PA)

Wales have never beaten Croatia in six attempts. Croatia have won four of those games, starting with a 2-0 Osijek friendly success in May 2010.

Wales lost both 2014 World Cup qualifiers – 2-0 away and 2-1 at home – and suffered a 2-1 defeat in Osijek in Euro 2020 qualifying.

Bale’s equaliser gave Wales a 1-1 draw in the reverse fixture in Cardiff, the same scoreline when the two nations met for the first time in a Varazdin friendly in 2002.