No goals scored, no goals conceded, and no extra problems for Wales manager Rob Page to deal with ahead of the start of next week’s European Championship. The primary aim of their warm-up friendlies was for Wales to avoid any injuries or unexpected complications so, by that basic measure at least, the two games will be regarded as a success.
Naturally, Wales would have hoped for a slightly more expressive attacking performance against Albania in Cardiff, but free-flowing football was simply not the priority at this point of their preparations. This was an exercise in gaining fitness and familiarity, with Page showing no inclination to pick the starting lineup that will play against Switzerland next weekend.
Gareth Bale and Joe Rodon were only second-half substitutions here, while Daniel James did not feature at all. Instead opportunities were given to other players, in some cases to gain some valuable minutes and in others to make a late claim for a place in the team for that first Euros game.
This was more than just a training exercise, though, and it threw up some interesting questions ahead of next week. The most pressing of those: striker or no striker? Kieffer Moore is the focal point of the attack when he plays, and he provides an aerial threat which will no doubt trouble defences across Europe.
But the sense is that Page believes his team will be more slick, especially on the counter-attack, when they play with a “false nine” instead of Moore’s very real nine. Against Albania, Wales were noticeably better as an attacking unit once Moore had entered their attack. Might that be enough to alter Page’s plans for the tournament? It is certainly one to keep an eye on.
Wales were handed a boost shortly before kick-off, when it was decided that Neco Williams could indeed play following his red card in the friendly against France in midweek. The Liverpool full-back was due to be suspended for this second warm-up match but, following discussions with Fifa and Uefa, it was decided that he could feature in Cardiff.
Page has been adamant that these friendly matches are about fitness more than results, so the return of Williams allowed them to revert back to their original plan for the two pre-tournament fixtures. Having started at left wing-back against France, Williams began the game as right wing-back on Saturday.
Elsewhere there was a start for Aaron Ramsey, who is carefully building his fitness after an injury-plagued year, and for creative midfielder David Brooks. Ramsey started in an attacking position, occasionally leading the line for Wales but also dropping into midfield to help knit together the play.
It was an unfamiliar role for the Juventus midfielder and Wales were far from at their flowing best in a surprisingly heated first half. The Albanians were in a competitive mood and there were a few unexpected scuffles in the first few minutes, despite the fact this was nothing more than a friendly.
Perhaps it was the return of supporters that created the edge. This was the first Wales match with fans since November 2019, and the 6,500 fans at the Cardiff City Stadium were keen to make themselves heard before the team flies to Baku on Monday.
The feistiness continued after the break, when Rhys Norrington-Davies was booked for shoving an opponent off the pitch. In the collision, Albania’s 75-year-old manager Edoardo Reja was bundled to the floor. He was not happy, and made that clear to Norrington-Davies in the aftermath.
On the pitch, Wales looked far more dangerous at the start of the second half following the introduction of Moore and the return of Ramsey to a more natural midfield position. The only concern for Ramsey was a heavy challenge which floored him temporarily, but the 30-year-old was thankfully back on his feet a few moments later.
With Moore providing an obvious target in attack, Wales started to create a few half-chances as they attacked with more venom. Harry Wilson looked sharp, firing wide from range, and Williams tested Albania goalkeeper Gentian Selmani with a powerful effort. But it was never an onslaught, and Wales were visibly playing within themselves. The energy is clearly being conserved.
Wales (3-4-3): Hennessey 6; Ampadu 6 (Moore 46), Mepham 6, Davies 6 (Rodon 61); N Williams 7, Allen 6 (Smith 61), Levitt 6, Norrington-Davies 6; Brooks (J Williams 76), Ramsey 7 (Wilson 61), Roberts 6 (Bale 71) Booked: Brooks, Norrington-Davies, Mepham