Under fire, Wales manager Rob Page says he is determined to see out the remaining three years on his contract.
Page signed a four-year contract exactly 12 months ago, as Wales were preparing for their first World Cup appearance in 64 years. But their fortunes have reversed since then and Page faces a possible Euro 2024 qualifier in Latvia on Monday.
Wales must beat bottom club Latvia – who have yet to score a point in Group D – to keep their hopes of a top-two finish and automatic qualification to next summer’s finals in Germany alive.
Asked in his pre-match press conference if he was under pressure from the Football Association of Wales to qualify, Page said: “I can’t let that affect me. I can’t think about it. I have a job.” I want to qualify myself as a Welsh fan.
“As a coach, I want to be in this position for the rest of my contract. I really enjoy working with this group of players.”
When pressed further on whether he was fighting for his job, Page replied: “We’re in an industry where you need to win football games.
“We’re in a period of transition as well. I can’t influence what the board of directors or the people above do.
“All I can worry about is winning football games and doing my best. If I do that and it doesn’t work out for me, at least I can go with my head held high.”
Wales prepared for their trip to Latvia with a goalless draw with South Korea on Thursday.
Wales’ Euro 2024 hopes hang in the balance
Page said he saw a lot of positive signs during the Cardiff game, and Wales were further boosted by Friday’s group of results in the qualifying section.
Group favorite Croatia left Latvia frustrated after crushing it 5-0, while Turkey and Armenia tied 1-1.
Wales will be level on points with Armenia if they win in Riga, and Croatia do the same in Yerevan, moving within three points of Turkey with a game in hand.
“(Turkey and Armenia’s draw) was probably the best result for us,” Page said. “It would be great if Croatia could get another win to be able to overtake them and make us fight for second place.
“We want to win the game. It’s all about the points for us. It doesn’t matter if it’s 1-0. They came out of a tough game but they were in the games until the 90th minute.
“We can’t wait until after the positive performance against Korea. I didn’t want to play because I didn’t want to risk injuries and we got an injury from that game like Wes (Burns) did.” He came in and tweaked his hamstring.
“There is a generation of fans who have seen Wales qualify for major tournaments. Losing players makes the task more difficult, but the expectation is that we must qualify.
“It’s not that easy. We will keep trying to qualify for every tournament.”
Hennessy and Burns withdraw from Wales squad
Goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey and full-back Wes Burns have withdrawn from the Wales squad to face Latvia on Monday.
A post on Wales’ official Twitter account said: “Wayne Hennessy and Wes Burns will not travel with the squad to Latvia due to injury.”
Joe Morrell and Kiefer Moore have already been suspended for a match Wales need to win to keep alive hopes of automatic qualification for Euro 2024 next summer in Germany.
Analysis: A win over Latvia would relieve some pressure
Sky Sports News chief correspondent Geraint Hughes:
Simply put, Wales must beat Latvia. They have to win and the reasons are many.
In order for Wales to remain in the competition for direct qualification to the European Championship 2024, a victory over Latvia is essential. They have to remain within reach of Croatia and Turkey. For Page, his position as Wales manager was never questioned as it is now.
After taking the reins in difficult circumstances when Ryan Giggs stepped down as Wales manager in 2020, Page handled the situation flawlessly. He also led Wales through the European Nations Cup qualifying campaign and then to the knockout stages of Euro 2020 and of course the emotional journey to the World Cup in Qatar last year.
Mutterings of concern began among some fans during the World Cup. This arose out of frustration that Wales had not done World Cup justice after waiting 64 years for one. Except for a second-half performance against the USA, Wales has not been at the races.
An impressive away result to Croatia at the start of the Euro 2024 qualifiers in March this year was the perfect tonic, but you can’t hide the fact that goals are difficult to score. With Gareth Bale gone, there will always be a huge void to fill. A defensive collapse against Armenia combined with the defeat in Turkey has put Wales in an unusual position in the qualifiers in recent seasons where they have never finished first or second in the table. So success brings expectations, and when expectations don’t match reality, you get the situation Wales is in now – pressure. And lots of it!
Wales have been in camp for this international break for over a week now, so there is plenty of time to work on the training ground, but also plenty of time to focus on Wales, Paige and their faltering Euro 2024 campaign. The past week feels like a pressure cooker. The proverbial for Paige. More and more focus on it. More and more questions about his future as a manager. Did the players get his back? Is there pressure from the CEO and the board of directors? This pressure happens in football, but when you are in the middle of it you can see that it can become stifling.
A win against Latvia should take some of the pressure off. The cooker hood will be lifted slightly to the side, but not completely. Page also needs a dominant performance against Latvia and preferably one with goals, not one, but two or three and a clean sheet. Where might those goals come from? Well, not from Gareth Bale as we know! It’s time to see what Tottenham have invested heavily in – how can Wales unleash Brennan Johnson? Whether it’s Aaron Ramsey or someone else, Johnson scoring will take the pressure off Paige.
The other side for Wales in Latvia is one where Wales don’t have control and don’t win 2-0 or 3-0. A draw or even dare I say defeat would end Wales’ automatic hopes of qualifying for Euro 2024. The back route through the qualifiers currently remains an option.
However, anything other than a win would put Page’s role in charge in serious jeopardy and also put some pressure on FAW CEO Noel Mooney. Will he continue to support Page as he rebuilds a team in transition after Gareth Bale? Or does he choose another direction?
The Latvian boss hopes Wales’ need for points can help his side in Riga
Latvian coach Denis Kazakevich believes the need for Wales to start their campaign at Euro 2024 can help his team end their wait for points in Group D.
Wales cannot afford to drop points in Riga on Monday if they are to bounce back from defeats to Armenia and Turkey in June and get back into the qualifying picture.
But Kazakiewicz – whose team is in last place in the group after losing four matches – said: “It is clear that the current situation in the standings must be taken into account.
“We understand the situation Wales is going through and it could affect our preparation and strategy for the match. Maybe it will help us.”