Paul Bodin's Cymru U21 team will bring their UEFA EURO 2023 qualifying campaign to a close this month with Parc y Scarlets hosting the final two Group E fixtures against the Netherlands (11 June) and Gibraltar (14 June).
Cymru v Netherlands
UEFA U21 EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP QUALIFYING
- Saturday, 11 June 2022
- Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli
- Kick-Off: 5.00pm
- Live on Sgorio Facebook, YouTube & S4C Clic
Although Cymru cannot qualify for the finals that will take place in Romania and Georgia next summer, the squad received a welcome boost with the return of goalkeeper Dan Barden following his successful treatment and recovery from testicular cancer. “It was a shock for him and for everyone around him and it was a horrendous time for him and his family,” explained Bodin. “He's not played a game yet, but we thought it was the right thing to do and a great opportunity to bring him in as he won't be eligible after this camp. It will be a great pleasure to see him back training in that Welsh kit again.”
But while Barden's inclusion is positive news, Bodin will be without a number of players through injury, while Cardiff City defender Oliver Denham has been called up to Rob Page's senior Cymru squad. “We wish all the players that go up to the senior squad all the best and hope that they do well,” Bodin added. “Hopefully Oli takes this opportunity with both hands. Throughout my tenure with the U21's a lot of players have moved up to the senior squad very quickly. We're a development group and I think everybody understands that. The U21 is the squad that gets disrupted more than any other.”
The list of absentees includes Isaak Davies, Morgan Boyes, Dan Williams, Brandon Cooper and Niall Huggins, but Bodin is keen to use the opportunity to move players up from the younger age groups. “For a younger player to get the opportunity to come in to the U21 squad, it's going to be a great experience,” he explained. “When you play against the best there's no finer time to educate yourself and receptive to all of the work that they do.”
Luca Hoole, Tom Sparrow, James Connolly and Pat Jones have been included in the U21 squad for the first time. Hoole and Connolly both played an important part in Bristol Rovers achieving promotion to League One this season, and Bodin is excited about what they can bring to the side. “James is a player who fully deserves his call-up. I've watched him many times and him and Luca Hoole have both had fantastic seasons. James is an uncompromising centre-half, he's a strong and powerful boy, and I hope he embraces the opportunity. I've been very impressed with him and Luca, I think they've done exceptionally well and fully deserve this opportunity.”
Although development remains the primary focus for Bodin, it has been a difficult campaign with just two victories from their eight games to date. However, the side produced a record 7-0 victory against Gibraltar last November with six different players on the scoresheet as Owen Beck, Ryan Astley, Terry Taylor, Daniel Williams, Luke Jephcott and a double from Joe Adams all found the target. The win followed on from a frustrating 5-0 defeat to the Netherlands the month before, and the side will be keen to end the group on a high with these two remaining home fixtures.