Paul Bodin's U21 squad make a long-awaited return to EURO qualifying on Friday, 4 September, as the young Cymru side take on Bosnia and Herzegovina in Zenica.
#U21EURO Qualifying Round
Bosnia & Herzegovina v Cymru
- 15:30 BST Friday 4 September
- FF BH Training Centre, Zenica
It was back in November last year when Bodin's talented squad last took to the field, as a goal from Swansea City striker Liam Cullen proved to be the difference as Cymru claimed a 1-0 over Bosnia and Herzegovina at the Racecourse. Cullen is once again included in the squad for the Group 9 qualifier, and has since made an impression at club level as he prepares to return to the international spotlight.
“After they returned from lockdown a number of players have been involved with their 1st teams,” Bodin explained to FAWTV when announcing his squad. “Liam Cullen scored his first senior goal for Swansea City against Reading, and after the current break they will be getting back for pre-season. Hopefully they can forge careers at their clubs in the 1st team rather than playing U23 football.”
Cymru began the current qualifying campaign one year ago with a memorable 1-0 victory over Belgium. Brennan Johnson was the hero that day, and is one of a number of young players that have been promoted into Ryan Giggs' senior squad for the UEFA Nations League fixtures against Finland and Bulgaria this week. Johnson is joined by Neco Williams and Ben Cabango as the next generation get their first taste of the senior international environment, while Ben Woodburn has also stepped-up from the initial U21 squad.
“We're working in the intermediate age groups and players come through,” said Bodin. “Some jump through quickly and some bide their time, but Ben (Cabango) has come on leaps and bounds over the last two years and he's done remarkably well. Neco (Williams) has been fantastic, his temperament, personality and character has shone through and to go and play in that (Liverpool) team must be unbelievable. He's adapted fantastically well and he's shining light and an example to all the other players.”
Oli Cooper, James Waite and Siôn Spence have been added to the initial 20-man squad to replace Johnson, Woodburn and the injured Jack Vale. Preparations have not been easy due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Bodin is confident that his squad will be ready for the challenge. “In the middle of June we received the mandate from UEFA that the September fixtures were taking place,” he added. “From that point on really we've put building blocks in place, and we started contacting both the clubs and the players.”
Cymru currently sit in third place at the midway point in the group, two points ahead of their opponents. Meanwhile, a change to the qualifying format now means that the nine group winners and five best runners-up will be joined by hosts Hungary and Slovenia with no play-off route. The first stage of the finals will consist of four groups of four teams in a mini-tournament that will take place between 24 and 31 March 2021. The four group winners and four runners-up will then qualify for the knockout stage of the finals which will be played between 31 May and 6 June 2021.