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Wales prepare for World Cup play-off with changes for Nations League match in Poland

Chris Gunter (foreground) is in line to play against Poland but the likes of Gareth Bale (left) and Aaron Ramsey (right) are set to be rested
Venue: Tarczynski Arena, Wroclaw Date: Wednesday, 1 June Kick-off: 17:00 BST
Coverage: Live commentary on BBC Radio Wales DAB and MW, BBC Radio Cymru 2, 5 Sports Extra, BBC Sport website and app, plus live text online. Highlights on BBC Wales.

Wales visit Poland on Wednesday for a Nations League match in which they will have their eyes on a much bigger prize.

On Sunday, Wales host Scotland or Ukraine in a World Cup play-off final which manager Robert Page has described as the “biggest game in Welsh history”.

As a result, he is set to rest several first-choice players, such as captain Gareth Bale, for the trip to Wroclaw.

“Most of the supporters back home will anticipate what we are going to do,” said Page.

“It’s a common sense approach to a big game on Sunday. There’s no hiding behind that and I’m not going to make any apologies for that whatsoever.

“We have not been in this position since 1958 [when Wales last qualified for a World Cup] so one eye is on that.

“We know we are up against strong opposition but there will be a team selected with a common sense approach.

“There is a buzz around the place and first and foremost we want to get this result and performance done on Wednesday.

“Then it’s the build-up to the biggest game in Welsh history. It’s a big week but an exciting one as well.”

Bale has played only 20 minutes for club side Real Madrid since Wales last played in March, when his preparation for the World Cup play-off semi-final against Austria amounted to a mere two appearances for the Spanish and European champions since November.

Not that it was a problem on that occasion for the 32-year-old, who scored two brilliant goals to inspire Wales to victory and take them to within one win of World Cup qualification.

Bale has travelled with the Wales squad to Poland and may feature briefly from the bench but it seems likelier he will be rested entirely.

Gareth Bale (left) in Wales training
Gareth Bale, seen training in Poland, is Wales’ all-time leading scorer with 38 goals in 102 games

Midfielder Aaron Ramsey, who spent the second half of the season on loan at Rangers from Juventus, is also part of the travelling party and another who is expected to be rested.

Fellow midfielder Joe Allen, winger Daniel James and defenders Connor Roberts and Neco Williams may also be held back.

Huddersfield Town winger Sorba Thomas was late joining Wales’ squad in Poland after playing in Sunday’s Championship play-off final, which Nottingham Forest won 1-0 to make their long-awaited return to the Premier League.

Forest forward Brennan Johnson is the only player unavailable after Page gave him some time off to recover after a busy season, meaning he will link up with the rest of the squad when they return to Wales on Wednesday night.

Page has rotated his squad to good effect in the past, most recently for the 1-1 friendly draw with the Czech Republic in March and for the 1-0 friendly win over Mexico a year earlier.

On both occasions, the former Wales Under-21s boss named young and inexperienced line-ups to take on accomplished opponents, and on Wednesday he will do so in a competitive match.

This will be Wales’ first fixture in the highest echelon of the Nations League, having won Group B4 in 2020 to earn promotion.

It will be a hectic start to life in the top flight for Wales, who face four Nations League matches and a World Cup play-off in the space of 13 days.

After the match against Poland on Wednesday, Wales return to Cardiff to face Scotland or Ukraine four days later as they aim to qualify for a first World Cup since 1958.

Page’s men then have back-to-back Nations League matches at Cardiff City Stadium against the Netherlands and Belgium on 8 and 11 June, before finishing this window with a trip to Rotterdam to face the Dutch on 14 June.

With that busy schedule in mind, Page has selected an extended 27-man squad to allow him to rotate and keep his players as fresh as possible.

Poland, who have already qualified for the World Cup, have gone further with manager Czeslaw Michniewicz naming a 37-strong squad, which is captained by all-time leading scorer Robert Lewandowski and includes six uncapped players.

Lewandowski, who said on Monday he plans to leave Bayern Munich this summer, is expected to start.

“We want to win it. We got promoted from [League] B to A because we want to expose our younger and better players to world class, international class and top European class opposition,” said Page.

“Poland fall into that category. We want to win 100%, we’re not here to make the numbers up and we want to win a game of football.

“There will be a team selected with one eye on Sunday’s final but when that first whistle goes we will be at it.”

Match stats

  • Captain Robert Lewandowski holds Poland’s records for most caps (129) and goals (75).
  • Poland are unbeaten in their past seven matches against Wales in all competitions, winning five and drawing two since losing their first encounter in March 1973.
  • Wales have never won away against Poland in all competitions, drawing two and losing two of their four away trips, while also failing to score in each match.
  • Wales have gone unbeaten in each of their past nine games, winning four and drawing five since a 4-0 defeat to Denmark at Euro 2020 in June 2021. Only between October 2001 and March 2003 (10 games) have they recorded a longer unbeaten run.
  • Poland have suffered just one defeat in their past nine games in all competitions, winning six and drawing two with the lone loss coming against Hungary in November 2021.
  • Both teams have found the back of the net in each of Wales’ past four games (nine for, four against).
  • Harry Wilson provided 20 assists in all competitions for Fulham in 2021-22, the most by any player in England’s top four divisions.
  • Wes Burns had a hand in 18 league goals for Ipswich Town in 2021-22 (12 goals, six assists), his best return for goal involvements in a single campaign in England’s top four tiers.

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