U16 Friendly International. Wales 1 France 0
Wales gained a memorable win over France at Dragon Park tonight (Tuesday) - the first time for the team to have beaten the French in thirteen matches. It was won by a great goal from Liam Cullen, minutes into the second half and it was richly deserved.
For Wales, the games are an important part of the build-up to the Sky Victory Shield matches later in the Autumn against the other home nations, with the opening game against England on Friday 31st October 2014.
France have always had a quality squad, such is the depth of talent in the country. However, the fact that they are willing to play Wales twice a season, every season, is testimony to the work being done by Osian Roberts and his technical staff at the Welsh Football Trust in improving the skills of the Wales youngsters as they begin the journey on the ‘conveyor-belt’ that could eventually lead to the senior Wales squad.
Conditions were perfect for the game. The pitch in great condition, the temperature cool and a crowd consisting of proud parents and friends, plus club scouts, eager to see what was on offer.
The Wales team:
1.Scott Coughlan (Cardiff City), 2.Mitch Clark (Aston Villa), 3.Ben Williams (Blackburn Rovers), 4.Liam Angel (Cardiff City), 5.Daniel Jefferies (Swansea City), 6.Max Smallcombe (Exeter City) 7.Sam Phillips (Wolverhampton Wanderers), 8.Matty Smith (Manchester City) (c), 9.Liam Cullen (Swansea City), 10.Ben Woodburn (Liverpool), 11.Kieran Evans (Swansea City).
Subs: 12. George Ratcliife (Cardiff City), 13. Rhys Norrington Davies (Swansea City), 14.Theo Llewellyn (Bristol City), 15.Joe Lewis (Swansea City), 16.Ryan Stirk (Birmingham City), 17.Ibi Sosani (Cardiff City), 18.Ethan Ampadu (Exeter City), 19.Keiran Proctor (Cardiff City), 20.Brandon Burrows (Wrexham), 22.Kieran Holsgrove, 23.Dylan Levitt (Manchester United).
The France team:
1.Thomas Chesneau, 2.Marvin Louisius, 4.Mahamadou Dembele, 5.Dan Zagadou (c), 7.Moussa Sylla, 8.Koren Kerkour, 10.Yassin Fortune, 11.Antoine Bernede, 12.Enzo Ebosse, 17.Mickael Cuisance, 18.Nabil Alioui.
Subs: 3.Fahad Mohamed, 6.Aurelien Nguiamba, 9.Calvin Tshilumba, 13.Thomas Basilia, 14.benjamin Verite, 15.Yanis Ammour, 16.Didier Desprez.
Referee: Bryn Markham-Jones. Assistants: Ian Bird & Ryan Kenny. 4th Official: Johnathon Bryant.
The opening exchanges saw both sides test each other out, and France looked to have plenty of players of stature in their team. However the Wales team stuck to their task and looked comfortable in possession.
The first corner went to France on eleven minutes, but was cleared by Wales. Following up, Cuisance had a shot for France that went well wide.
France skipper and centre half Zagadou, was commanding at the heart of the defence and gave Liam Cullen few chances in the opening fifteen minutes.
At the other end France had another corner on 16 minutes that was over-hit by France and caused no danger. For Wales, full-backs Clarke and Williams were seeing plenty of the ball and were coping well with the French attacks down the flanks.
Bernende for France had a nice run down the left flank on 17 minutes, but was well blocked by the Welsh defenders.
Wales keeper Coughlan pulled off a fine save from Fortune on 18 minutes at the expense of a corner. The shot had looked destined for the top left hand corner. The French short corner came to nothing as Wales defended stoutly once again.
Wales won a free kick on 21 minutes five yards outside the French box. Cullen took it, but it was straight into the keeper's hands. Straight away France broke and Sylla had a shot well saved by Coughlan.
France was beginning to assert some authority in midfield, but Wales still looked comfortable enough as the half-hour mark was reached.
Wales won a corner on 31 minutes taken by Evans, but the far post delivery was blocked and cleared back into the Wales half.
Cullen tried his luck from just inside the French half after a clearance fell to him from the Wales keeper. The long distance shot went wide.
A rare mix-up in the French area gave Evans a chance, but it was soon lost as the French defence closed him down on 35 minutes. Again, the visitors then went down the other end and Coughlan was called on to make a smart save as the French strikers did battle with the Wales defenders for a chance at goal.
Liam Cullen continued to work tirelessly against the tall Zagadou in the centre and it was a good battle to watch. The kicking of Wales keeper, Scott Coughlin was also excellent and he had a half to remember as the clock ticked down for the end of the first half.
Some nice crossfield passing by France ended the half, with both sides showing some good work in the opening 40 minutes, but few clear chances on goal. 0-0 at half time.
The second half began with three French substitutions: Thomas Basilia, Fahad Mohamed and Aurelien Nguiamba replacing Enzo Ebosse, Mahamadou Dembele and Marvin Louisius and two for Wales: Joe Lewis and Kieran Holsgrove replacing Mitch Clarke and Kieran Evans.
Wales opened in explosive style and after some powerful running in midfield by Ben Woodburn who released Liam Cullen on 42 minutes whose shot beat the France keeper to give the Young Dragons a 1-0 lead. It set-up a great second half.
France were rocked by the goal and looked to get straight back into the game, but again, the Wales defence held firm.
On 53 minutes, Wales sent on Theo Llewellyn and Kieran Proctor for Max Smallcombe and Sam Phillips, whilst France brought on Yanis Ammour for Antoine Bernede.
As time wore on, Wales continued to win more of the one-to-one battles that were being fought in different parts of the pitch.
A great run by France’s Fortune came to nothing after carrying it for some twenty five yards. Again, great Welsh defending when needed.
On the hour, Wales goalscorer Cullen was replaced by Ibi Sosani. A few minutes later, France replaced Moussa Sylla with Calvin Tshilumba. Ibi Sosani had the ball in the net on 65 minutes but was ruled offside as he came in from the right hand side. It was a good call by the assistant referee.
The best chance for France came as Ammour hit just over the bar from a great cross by Alioul on 70 minutes. Wales took the ball downfield and won a corner that was cleared. France were now getting desperate to find a goal to level the scores.
Ethan Ampadu replaced captain Matty Smith on 71 minutes as the sixth Wales substitute. The Wales team could start to sense a famous victory as the minutes ticked away.
France continued to press and in the final minutes caused Welsh hearts to pound as they fought for a way through, but eventually, keeper Coughlan came-up with the ball.
As the game entered three minutes of additional time, Wales continued to press forward, but France counter-attacked and the Welsh defence had to be at their best to clear - but they did. The ball went back to the French end and another corner was won. The game was almost won.
When the final whistle blew - the Wales youngsters celebrated and the Young Dragons had been well worth their win against a team that at the start had looked more than imposing.
The second game will be at 6pm at Dragon park on Thursday.