Wales vs Poland: Biggest test post-Gareth Bale in Euro 2024 play-off

Wales vs Poland: Biggest test post-Gareth Bale in Euro 2024 play-off

Ever since Gareth Bale retired last year, the question for Wales has been how they would cope without their talisman when it matters most.

On Tuesday, a young Wales side, led by fresh talent like Tottenham’s Brennan Johnson, can write their own history when they play Poland in Cardiff for a place at Euro 2024.

Filling the void left by Bale, who led Wales to three major tournaments and is their greatest-ever player, was never going to be easy.

In their first qualifying campaign since Bale hung up his boots, Wales struggled, and back-to-back defeats by Armenia and Turkey last year looked to have ended their hopes of a third successive Euros. But they recovered to reach the play-offs and thumped Finland 4-1 in last week’s semi-final.

Players like Johnson, Harry Wilson, Nathan Ampadu and Neco Williams have stepped up, and manager Rob Page believes his side have come “a long way” since losing Bale.

“We’re only one tournament past Gareth’s retirement and one win away from qualifying,” he said. “We had one of the world’s best footballers and it shows how far we’ve come in a short space of time.

“If we can be there or thereabouts at the end of the qualifying campaign, while we’re still in this transition of introducing young players without some of the world-class senior players we’ve had, then we’re in a good place.”

Wales may be moving on from a talismanic figure, but Poland are still clinging on to their main man, Robert Lewandowski. The Barcelona star is now 35 and stoked the fire ahead of the game by warning Poland about the threat of the “simple long ball” from Wales. Page hit back at Lewandowski to add to the spice between the teams.

Wales were humiliated at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, but this is a chance of redemption and they will be buoyed by a good recent record at the Cardiff City Stadium.

Spurs defender Ben Davies is set to captain Wales, with regular skipper Aaron Ramsey likely to only be fit enough for the bench, and he is aware of the threat posed by Lewandowski. He said: “If you give him a sniff of a chance, it can turn into a goal.”