Wales v Azerbaijan preview
Jason Koumas and Rob Earnshaw have both been passed fit for Wales' opening World Cup qualifier at home to Azerbaijan.
By Elliot Ball
Last Updated: 05/09/08 12:44pm
Jason Koumas and Rob Earnshaw have both been passed fit for Wales' opening World Cup qualifier at home to Azerbaijan on Saturday.
Key midfielder Koumas and striker Earnshaw took part in full training on Thursday and have handed boss John Toshack a timely boost for the match at the Millennium Stadium.
Wigan Athletic playmaker Koumas has recovered from an ankle injury and the creative 28-year old will be vital to Toshack who is without a number of key players including Danny Gabbidon, Freddy Eastwood, James Collins and captain Craig Bellamy.
Influential Koumas, who has scored nine goals in his last 12 internationals, may have to play through the pain barrier as he bids to help Wales get their campaign for the 2010 World Cup off to a flyer.
Earnshaw, a late call-up, was doubtful with a hamstring problem but the 27-year-old offers another attacking option for Toshack who is unable to field his first-choice strike-force.
Bellamy, who publicly explained his absence, underwent medical tests with Wales and Toshack agreed with West Ham that their star striker was not fit.
Eastwood withdrew from international duty after suffering a groin strain in Coventry City's defeat to Doncaster last Saturday.
Wolves striker Sam Vokes has shrugged off a groin strain and is expected to partner fellow teenage forward Ched Evans up-front although Paul Parry and the now-fit Earnshaw are also in contention.
The double fitness boost of Earnshaw and Koumas means Toshack can add some much needed experience to what will be one of the youngest Wales sides for a generation.
There is a plethora of young Premier League talent vying for a place in the Wales starting XI including Arsenal new-boy Aaron Ramsey and Spurs duo Gareth Bale and Chris Gunter.
Wales have beaten Azerbaijan on three previous occasions including a 2-0 victory in Cardiff courtesy of a Ryan Giggs brace in their last Qorld Cup qualifying campaign in 2005 and have never lost to the Group 4 minnows.