Wales will have Aaron Ramsey available for the first time in their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign for Saturday’s crucial fixture in Azerbaijan.
Realistically, victory in Baku is essential for Wales – but they will know how tricky a task that could be.
It was only thanks to Gareth Bale’s late winner that Wales managed to overcome a stubborn Azerbaijan side in Cardiff in September, and the group’s minnows demonstrated how tough they are to beat by holding 2018 World Cup runners-up Croatia to a draw.
It is not mere lip service, therefore, when Wales warn of the challenge facing them this weekend.
“We understand they’re a team that play good football and they frustrate teams,” says Gareth Bale.
“We understand everything about them, we’ve watched them, we’ve analysed them and we have a game-plan we’re going to stick to. We just have to go out there and do the best we can.”
Wales have been hampered by injuries during this campaign and, although the likes of Joe Allen and Joe Rodon will be missing in Baku, Giggs’ side have been handed an enormous boost with Aaron Ramsey’s return to fitness.
If the Juventus midfielder features against Azerbaijan, it will be the first time he and fellow key figure Bale will have played together for Wales in a qualifier since a 2-0 win in Moldova in September 2017.
Ramsey and Bale have not lost a qualifier while playing together since a 2-0 defeat in Bosnia-Herzegovina in October 2015, which was academic as Wales qualified for Euro 2016 that night anyway.
Their influence on Wales is clearly significant, and Giggs will hope they maintain their fine record together as this qualifying campaign nears its conclusion.
“They’re massively important. We understand the situation we’re in. We know it’s a must-win,” says Bale.
“We know what we have to do. We know the pressure that’s on and we try to embrace it. These are the positions we want to be in.
“It’s important not just for the here and now but for the future of Welsh football. It will inspire kids again and hopefully make more kids play football and make our national team better for the future.”
- Wales have played Azerbaijan seven times, winning six and drawing once.
- This is the fourth time since 2002 that Wales and Azerbaijan have been drawn in the same European Championship or World Cup qualifying group.
- Wales are 24th in the Fifa world rankings, 87 places above Azerbaijan in 111th.
Since back-to-back defeats against Croatia and Hungary in June, Wales are unbeaten in four matches.
Ryan Giggs scored three of his 12 Wales goals against Azerbaijan.
Wales are aiming to win both matches of a qualifying double-header for the first time since 2017, when they beat Austria and Moldova.
Azerbaijan have one victory from their past nine matches in all competitions.
Their most recent qualifying victory was a 5-1 thrashing of San Marino in a World Cup qualifier September 2017.
Azerbaijan’s last win in a European Championship qualifier came against Malta in March 2015.
MOST RECENT MEETING
Wales 2-1 Azerbaijan, Cardiff City Stadium, 6, September 2019: Gareth Bale’s late winner saves Wales from an embarrassing home draw against Azerbaijan to give his side’s stuttering bid to qualify for Euro 2020 a much-needed lift.