Cabango and Williams get senior Wales call

Wales v England

Wales manager Ryan Giggs has selected a 26-man squad for the upcoming Nations League matches against Finland and Bulgaria next week.

Emerging Liverpool star Neco Williams and Swansea City centre-back Ben Cabango both get their first senior call-ups for the double header, but there is surprisingly no place for on-fire Hibernian striker Christian Doidge.

Right-back Williams has excelled at Anfield, with the Wrexham-born defender making 11 senior appearances for the Reds in all competitions last season, while Cabango made 26 appearances in all competitions in what was his breakthrough campaign at Swansea.

A year ago Doidge’s inclusion in a Wales squad would have been unthinkable, with the striker only managing goals against lower-league opposition in the Betfred Cup as Hibs struggled for form. But 12 months on the fact he has been overlooked has got many people talking, particularly those attuned to Scottish football. The 28-year-old scored 18 Scottish Premiership goals last season and has already hit the net twice this campaign, picking up where he left off in March.

But the decision by Hal Robson-Kanu to reverse his international retirement after helping West Brom to automatic promotion from the Championship last season left Giggs in a difficult situation, with Doidge the man to suffer.

The 31-year-old Baggies’ ace played a pivotal part in Wales’ Euro 2016 campaign and his experience alone makes him a key figure to have in the squad but the fact Doidge is already back in action in the Scottish Premier and playing competitive games in the period leading up to the internationals would have been a strong argument for his inclusion.

Robson-Kanu played a big part under Chris Coleman as Wales reached the semi-finals of Euro 2016, famously scoring against both Slovakia and Belgium in France.

He retired from international football at the age of 29 in August 2018, just months after Giggs was named as Coleman’s successor, but during his impressive role in West Brom’s promotion to the Premier League, netting 10 Championship goals, he revealed his desire to pull on the Wales shirt again.

Giggs has expressed high hopes of picking up six points from the two opening Nations League fixtures, perhaps explaining his reluctance to leave out regular strikers Kieffer Moore, who has recently joined Cardiff City; and Tyler Roberts, who was involved in Leeds’ Championship-winning squad.

“Both games are before the season starts and we have one eye on these two games and one on next summer,” said Giggs. “We’re trying to mould a team to be competitive when the Euros come around again.”

On the surface it would seem that in that respect Doidge could have a greater claim for a place than 19-year-old central midfielder Dylan Levitt, who has made one senior appearance for Manchester United in a dead rubber Europa League game and will surely be down the pecking order in the middle of the park for Wales.

Robson-Kanu’s fellow Euro 2016 heroes Ashley Williams and Chris Gunter, both unattached at present, are included in the squad, although Joe Allen misses out due to injury, as does Derby frontman Tom Lawrence, plus defenders Chris Mepham and Joe Rodon.

Gareth Bale will hope to put his club woes at Real Madrid behind him in a Wales jersey, while Juventus star Aaron Ramsey will be looking to play a more prominent role having missed six of his side’s eight Euro 2020 qualifiers last year.

Elsewhere, David Brooks features in a Wales squad for the first time since the double header with Croatia and Hungary in June 2019 after fully recovering from the injuries that plagued him in the previous campaign.

Wales face Finland in Helsinki next Thursday, 3 September, before hosting Bulgaria at Cardiff City Stadium three days later.

In October Giggs’ side take on Republic of Ireland and Bulgaria away before hosting the Republic of Ireland and Finland in the final two Nations League group matches in November. Wales also face England at Wembley Stadium in a friendly on 8 October.

Wales squad
Goalkeepers: Wayne Hennessey, Danny Ward, Adam Davies
Defenders: Chris Gunter, Ashley Williams, Ben Davies, Connor Roberts, Tom Lockyer, Ethan Ampadu, James Lawrence, Ben Cabango, Neco Williams
Midfielders: Aaron Ramsey, Jonny Williams, Matthew Smith, Will Vaulks, Joe Morrell, Dylan Levitt
Forwards: Harry Wilson, David Brooks, Dan James, Gareth Bale, Hal Robson-Kanu, Tyler Roberts, Rabbi Matondo, Kieffer Moore

Nations League Group B4 Fixtures
Thursday, 3 September, Finland v Wales (7.45pm)
Sunday, 6 September, Wales v Bulgaria (2pm)
Sunday, 11 October, Republic of Ireland v Wales (2pm)
Wednesday, 14 October, Bulgaria v Wales (7.45pm)
Sunday, 15 November, Wales v Republic of Ireland (5pm)
Wednesday, 18 November, Wales v Finland (7.45pm)