Everything that happens is big – Robert Earnshaw hypes up Wales play-off matches
Wales will discover their World Cup play-off opponents on Friday, with Robert Earnshaw adamant that nothing can prepare them for such a momentous occasion.
Earnshaw was part of the Wales side beaten by Russia in the Euro 2004 play-offs as Mark Hughes’ team went down 1-0 in Cardiff.
Seeded Wales will have home advantage in their 2022 World Cup play-off in March, with Austria, the Czech Republic, North Macedonia Poland Turkey and Ukraine potential semi-final opponents.
An additional draw will be held in Zurich on Friday to determine which semi-final winner will play at home in the final.
Wales, whose only World Cup finals appearance in 1958 came after a play-off victory over Israel, could then meet one of their fellow top seeds Italy, Portugal, Russia, Scotland or Sweden for a place at Qatar 2022.
“It is different from a normal game because you know the prize at the end of it is huge,” former Wales striker Earnshaw said of the play-offs.
“It’s right at the forefront of your mind. You know what is happening with it.
“Once you go through the group games you know there is a bit of time until the end.
“But the play-offs are different because of the pressure, every movement and everything that happens is big and all about the result.
“Whoever we play we have to be positive in our approach because we have some very good players.
“It’s great we have the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale because they are great footballers.
“The one thing that doesn’t get highlighted is the amount of pressure and weight of the nation on their shoulders always, but they deliver consistently.
“Our approach has to be right with those great players. Going into the play-offs that’s where we can do well and qualify.”
During the qualifying campaign it became clear that Wales would be guaranteed a play-off spot through their Nations League results in 2020.
But Robert Page’s side secured semi-final home advantage last week by drawing 1-1 with Belgium, the world’s top ranked team, and finishing as runners-up in their group.
Earnshaw said: “It makes a difference being at home but it shouldn’t matter.
“Just go out and try to win the game. If we’re unlucky then we’re just unlucky. It wasn’t to be. That’s no problem.
“But let’s give it everything. Let’s not be cautious or tentative in our approach.
“We have good young players as well, like Harry Wilson and Dan James, who can take it in and make a big impact.
“We’re always going to talk about Ramsey and Bale, but there’s a chance for other people to now step up and be the person who makes a difference.”
Earnshaw was controversially omitted when Wales, having held Russia to a goalless draw in Moscow in November 2003, lost the Cardiff return.
Hughes opted for a cautious 4-5-1 formation and Earnshaw, who had already scored 20 goals for club and country that season, was kept on the bench until the 58th minute with Wales already 1-0 down.
Earnshaw said: “There was pressure in and around the squad and I think Mark Hughes felt a bit of that.
“I think he’s said publicly that there were one or two decisions he could have made differently.
“We didn’t approach the game the way we should have. If we had stuck with a 4-3-3 then we probably would have gone through.
“Attacking wise, we had Craig Bellamy, John Hartson, Ryan Giggs and me, so we had creation and goals.
“That’s what got us there in the first place but the play-offs were tough. The game didn’t flow for us and it was definitely one of the hardest moments of my career.”
:: Robert Earnshaw was speaking at the FAW and McDonald’s Grassroots Football Awards 2021 celebrating the unsung heroes of the grassroots football community of Wales.
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