Robert Page, the Wales manager, has questioned Uefa’s decision to stage their World Cup qualifier against Belarus in Russia and said his squad faces another logistical nightmare following a summer of travelling, having racked up more than 5,000 air miles at Euro 2020.
The game on 5 September, which will be played behind closed doors, is being held at a neutral venue as teams from the UK and the EU are unable to fly into Belarus because of sanctions against their government. Page said Wales’s attempts to appeal against the decision were swiftly dismissed by the governing body and so they must prepare for a 4,000-mile round trip from Cardiff.
“Uefa could have picked any neutral venue but they’ve decided on Kazan,” Page said. “First and foremost we sympathise with the Belarusians, absolutely. But organising it from a financial and logistical point of view is a nightmare.
“We’ve got to pick a bigger squad as we all need visas – just in case there are injuries this weekend. The work that has gone into it is crazy. I have never seen anything like it – the amount of work, forms to fill in, it’s crazy. We tried to appeal but were shot down straight away. Uefa have decided that’s what we have to do and we have to get on with it.”
Aaron Ramsey was named in the initial squad but Juventus have since said the midfielder has a minor thigh injury and that he will undergo further tests in 10 days to determine the extent of his absence. Ramsey played 59 minutes for the Serie A club against Udinese on Sunday.
Page originally named a 27-man squad for the triple-header of matches, which begins with a friendly in Finland next Wednesday. Gareth Bale and Wayne Hennessey, both of whom are on 96 caps, will close in on a century for their country, while the 20-year-old Nottingham Forest winger Brennan Johnson could also build on his two caps after being recalled. Page said 32 players, five of whom are on standby, have had to get Russian visas as part of the contingency planning for the game.
Wales squad for World Cup qualifiers
Goalkeepers: Wayne Hennessey (Burnley), Daniel Ward (Leicester City), Adam Davies (Stoke City)
Defenders: Chris Gunter (Charlton Athletic), Ben Davies (Tottenham Hotspur), Ethan Ampadu (Chelsea), Chris Mepham (Bournemouth), Joe Rodon (Tottenham Hotspur), Neco Williams (Liverpool), Tom Lockyer (Luton Town), James Lawrence (FC St Pauli), Rhys Norrington-Davies (Sheffield United)
Midfielders: Aaron Ramsey (Juventus), Joe Allen (Stoke City), Jonny Williams (Swindon Town), Harry Wilson (Fulham), David Brooks (Bournemouth), Joe Morrell (Portsmouth), Matthew Smith (Manchester City – on loan at Hull City), Dylan Levitt (Manchester United – on loan at Dundee United), George Thomas (QPR), Rubin Colwill (Cardiff City)
Forwards: Brennan Johnson (Nottingham Forest), Gareth Bale (Real Madrid), Daniel James (Manchester United), Kieffer Moore (Cardiff City), Tyler Roberts (Leeds United)
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At Euro 2020 Wales travelled from Azerbaijan to Amsterdam, via Rome, for four matches, while England, who reached the final, played all but one of their matches at Wembley. Chris Gunter, who became the first Welshman to win 100 caps this year, branded the format of the pan-European tournament a “joke” after they exited against Denmark in the last 16.
“If I’d said it during the Euros it would have sounded like sour grapes, so I didn’t want to say it then,” said Page, who remains in interim charge. “But, in hindsight, it is no coincidence that teams who got further had [to do] less travelling. We put up with it and did it and gave it our best but of course it had an impact.”