Wales must utilise their own Angelos Charisteas at World Cup amid Gareth Bale fitness concerns

A look at the weapons Wales can lean upon as they head into their first World Cup in more than half a century.

Wales are now closing in on their first World Cup campaign in 64 years, and the excitement is palpable.

It has been a generation since Wales last reached international football’s biggest stage, but the long wait is over after a successful qualification campaign that culminated in a play-off win over Ukraine. After so many slips and falls, Wales finally held their nerve in the qualifiers, and their successful spell continues after qualifying for the last two European Championships, reaching the semi-finals in the first.

It has been a turbulent time for Wales, too, having to suspend Ryan Giggs, with Robert Page taking temporary charge. That situation has since been resolved, though, with Giggs stepping down and Page getting the job full-time, backed with a new contract.

Wales won’t have it easy in Qatar, drawn in a group with neighbours England, Iran and a talented USA side. While they will head to the Middle East full of belief that they can rock the Three Lions, if they want to progress, they know their main competition is that USA side that is full of youthful talents currently playing at the top level around Europe.

Page’s men are going to have to beat Iran and then look to get the better of USA either directly, or by drawing and bettering their result against England, whether that is by outright result or goal difference.

But who are Wales likely to turn to as they look to make it to the knockout stage? Who is going to stand out if the Dragons are to achieve their objective in Qatar?

Gareth Bale is the obvious one, but he heads into this tournement with fitness issues, featuring sparingly for LAFC over recent weeks, while Dan James has only played a supplamentary role for Fulham of late. Page will also be able to call upon Harry Wilson, David Brooks and Aaron Ramsey, while Brennan Johnson looks sharp for Nottingham Forest, sharpening his talent in the Premier League this season.

But the man who could well be Wales’ most dangerous player at this World Cup is Kieffer Moore.

Wales are not going to be able to have their own way with the majority of teams at the World Cup. Page has talent in this squad, but it is not the most talented squad. Sure, there is big tournement experience there, but there is an absence of World Cup experience, albeit that’s a potential flaw they share with USA.

Without free-flowing, possession-based football, Wales are going to need a reference man, someone to hold the ball up and stitch together counter attacks, and that style is not going to change.

Page said last year: "If you're winning games of football and you're playing well why would you change? We've had success the way we've played in recent months and if we've needed something different in the past we've put Gareth (Bale) on the left, DJ (Daniel James) on the right and Kieffer on, which has caused more problems. I just think when you have success playing a certain way and formation you are asking for more problems by changing it."

That’s where Moore comes into his own. And aside from those more obvious traits, given his height, he is also a superb finisher, both with his head and feet, something he showed recently with a brace against Tottenham for Bournemouth.

Moore has impressed for Bournemouth since joining from Cardiff Moore has impressed for Bournemouth since joining from Cardiff
Moore has impressed for Bournemouth since joining from Cardiff

“Kieffer’s got nothing to prove right now,” Page added last summer. “He’s proved over recent months with his goalscoring record at club level that he’s a massive part of this squad. “I’ve had that conversation with him this week as well so we understand his value to the squad. It’s a great headache to have.”

Moore can tread a thin line with his physicality, and he has been caught out because of the reduced tolerance shown by referees in international football.

“I am super conscious every time I go for an aerial challenge and head the ball,” the striker has admitted. “In internationals, referees never really give you too much leeway. It does take some getting used to, it is about adapting to that.

“I couldn’t tell you, I put my arms by side. I know the officials will be having words on the side when these challenges are happening. It is frustrating, but it is down to me to adapt and not get myself in these situations.”

But if Page cane fine-tune that aggression, the striker’s physicality can also prove the difference - think Angelos Charisteas for Greece at Euro 2004. When you get a good cross into the box, you’ve always got a chance. And when that kind of striker works on defenders throughout the game, even if they come off having not scored, their work can so often sap energy in a way that opens up the game for smaller, quicker strikers. That’s where Moore’s efforts can open up more opportunities for the likes of Brennan Johnson, who needs better service to thrive.

Moore already has nine goals in 28 games for Wales, and his height, physicality and underestimated pace will make him one of Wales’ most lethal and much-needed weapons at the World Cup this summer.