A new Cymru era as EURO 2024 qualifying begins
Rob Page will announce his Cymru squad on Tuesday afternoon ahead of the opening two UEFA EURO 2024 qualifiers against Croatia (Saturday 25 March) in Split and Latvia (Tuesday 28 March) at the Cardiff City Stadium.
UEFA EURO 2024 Qualifiers
Cymru v Latvia
- 19:45 Tuesday 28 March
- Cardiff City Stadium
- Tickets available here
The announcement will mark the start of a new era for the national team with Chris Gunter, Jonny Williams, Joe Allen and Gareth Bale all confirming their retirement from the international stage since the last time the group were together in Qatar for the 2022 FIFA World Cup Finals. Cymru, Croatia and Latvia are joined by Turkey and Armenia in Group D for this latest qualifying campaign, and Page will be desperate to see his side get early points on the board having qualified for the last two EURO finals in succession.
Cymru and Croatia last met in qualifying for EURO 2020, and while Croatia claimed maximum points in Osijek, an equaliser from Bale earned Cymru a share of the points in the return match in Cardiff. Both teams would qualify for the finals that eventually took place a year later due to the pandemic, and while both teams made it through the group stage, neither side could make it past the Round of 16. By comparison, Latvia have only ever qualified for one major tournament, and this competition will mark the 20 year anniversary of when they reached EURO 2004.
Croatia manager Zlatko Dalić has named a strong squad which includes captain and all-time record appearance holder Luka Modrić. Although he will turn 38 later this year, the Real Madrid midfielder remains a key part of this Croatia team which finished third at the World Cup in 2022. Modrić has made 162 appearances for Croatia during his career, and he is joined in the squad by Ivan Perišić of Tottenham Hotspur, who has represented his country 123 times. Dalić was the manager when Croatia reached the World Cup Final in 2018, and this summer he will lead his country to the UEFA Nations League Finals in the Netherlands.
The retirement of Bale means that a new captain will be appointed to lead the team out against Croatia when the international action returns, and Page is expected to confirm who will inherit the armband when he announces his squad. Cymru have never beaten Croatia in six previous attempts, although there have been two draws between the two nations since they first met back in August 2002, including the last meeting in 2019. Meanwhile, there has only been one previous meeting between Cymru and Latvia as goals from John Hartson and Craig Bellamy earned a 2-0 friendly victory in Riga in 2004.
While Croatia will pose a significant challenge in Split, Latvia have only lost two of their last 12 senior international games and will take on the Republic of Ireland in a friendly before heading to Cardiff. The latter defeat came in a penalty shoot-out against Iceland at the Baltic Cup. Winning their UEFA Nations League group to gain promotion to League C has boosted the confidence within Dainis Kazakevičs' squad, while striker Vladislavs Gutkovskis has been in good form with five goals during the Nations League campaign.
But for Cymru, retirements will lead to new opportunities, and Page is expected to include a number of new faces in his squad for the double-header at the end of the month to compliment the experience that remains available for selection. While qualification for EURO 2024 will be the primary focus for Page, he will also be keen to expose his new additions to as much senior international football as possible ahead of the next World Cup in 2026. Page signed a four-year contract in 2022 to lead Cymru through this period of natural transition, and this international window will mark the beginning of a new era for the national team.
Tickets for the match against Latvia are available to purchase on the FAW ticketing website, with prices starting from £5 for juniors (16 and under).