Wales boys insist hope still alive
WALES take on Croatia tonight (7pm) looking to turn a flicker of hope into brightly-burning ambition.
The quest to reach Brazil 2014 had looked doomed before Friday's scintillating late win over Scotland fanned the embers of Wales's World Cup qualification bid.
Chris Coleman's side flew from Cardiff Airport yesterday still dreaming they may board a plane to sunny Rio in two years' time.
Last Friday's Battle of Britain had been dubbed must-win for both sides, but that was particularly true for Wales after they began the campaign with defeats to Belgium and Serbia.
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The manner of the second — a 6-1 mauling in Novi Sad — had also turned the heat up on Chris Coleman just four games into his tenure.
That pressure has been eased somewhat after Gareth Bale inspired Wales to a last-gasp victory over Craig Levein's side.
"We always had the belief. We kept it from the games we had been winning, even though we had lost a few," said striker Steve Morison. "We have a great spirit and a great camp and we enjoy getting together.
"Everyone is turning up, which is fantastic, and we will carry it on until Tuesday night and hopefully we can put on a good performance in Croatia.
"We have always been behind Chris and I think we showed that we are a very good team. I thought we made Scotland look very average."
Wales have put themselves in a position where they are one win away from being back in genuine qualification contention.
But gaining that victory will be far from simple.
Only goal difference keeps Croatia behind a Belgian side featuring stellar names like Vincent Kompany, Marouane Fellaini and Eden Hazard at the Group A summit.
Croatia do not have as many Premier League stars at their disposal, but do count Everton striker Nikica Jelavic and former Spurs midfielder Luka Modric among their number.
"I don't think they are ever nice places to go to. They are very, very hard places to go to and get results," said Morison.
"But going there off the back of a win will make it a little bit easier.
"We have only played three games.
"There are a lot of games to go.
"We've got to play everyone again so if we can go on a run, you never know what might happen."
The current leading pair are overwhelming favourites to take the top two places as far as the bookies are concerned, with Wales a massive 150-1 to win the group, and 50-1 to finish either first or second.
A draw would represent an excellent return against a side who haven't been beaten since losing by a late goal to world champions Spain at last summer's Euros.
Wales lost 2-0 in Croatia under John Toshack in 2010, eight years after the first ever meeting between the sides ended level at 1-1.
Lose tonight and Wales's new found optimism would soon ebb away.
They might also be left with insurmountable ground to make up on the group pace-setters before the campaign has even reached halfway.
Gareth Bale is one piercing ray of positivity for Wales after he produced a genuinely world class performance to beat the Scots.
The Spurs winger's last-minute winner capped a sensational individual display and something similar is required if Wales are to leave the Stadion Maksimir celebrating.
Defender Adam Matthews may challenge Ben Davies for the left-back spot if he recovers sufficiently from an ankle problem.
The Celtic full-back missed Friday's 2-1 win over Scotland, but has travelled with Wales to Osijek and his condition will be assessed by Coleman before kick-off.
"Adam is with us and we'll watch him carefully," Coleman said.
"We have to weigh up the consequences — he has not done a lot for two weeks, but he has improved since he has been with us and had more treatment.
"He could possibly join in tonight, or that might possibly be a little bit early.
"But he is with us and we will be waiting until the last minute before we say a definite yes or no."
Coleman must decide whether to stick with Morison, who was largely ineffective against Scotland, or give in-form Barnsley striker Craig Davies a chance.
But Davies is struggling with a minor knock which might influence the former Fulham boss's thinking.
"We took it light with him today and he didn't do too much, but he'll be alright — he's available for the game tomorrow," said Coleman.
"With everybody else, there are no problems." Midfielder Aaron Ramsey is suspended after picking up his second yellow card of the campaign against Scotland.
Wolves midfielder Dave Edwards has been called up in his place, but Coleman could opt for Leicester's Andy King instead.
Defender James Collins is still serving a ban after his red card against Belgium last month.
Wales (probable) Price; Gunter, Williams, Blake, Davies; Ledley, Allen, Vaughan, Bale; King, Morison.