Wales manager dedicates World Cup qualification to Newcastle United and Leeds icon Gary Speed

Former Wales boss and Leeds United hero Gary Speed. Pic: Michael Steele.Former Wales boss and Leeds United hero Gary Speed. Pic: Michael Steele.
Former Wales boss and Leeds United hero Gary Speed. Pic: Michael Steele.
Wales claimed their place in Qatar with a historic win against Ukraine on Sunday.

Rob Page has hailed former Newcastle United star Gary Speed for starting the process that has led to Wales qualifying for the World Cup for the first time since 1958.

A 1-0 home win against Ukraine in a play-off saw Page’s side secure their place at the finals in Qatar later this year.

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The Welsh have not qualified for a finals since 1958 when they reached the quarter-final in Chile before suffering a 1-0 defeat against a Pele-inspired Brazil.

After watching his side confirm their qualification for this year’s tournament, Wales manager Page reflected on the development of the national side since former Magpies star Speed took charge in 2010.

After being chosen to succeed John Toshack, Speed introduced a number of young players into the senior setup and kickstarted an improvement in the fortunes of his national side.

After slumping to a lowest ever FIFA ranking of 117th, Speed’s final game in charge came with a 4-1 friendly win against Norway, by which time his side had moved up to 45th place in the official rankings.

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Sadly, a month to the day after that win, Speed’s tragic death was confirmed and he remains a much-admired figure at his former clubs and within the Wales setup.

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“I’ve said in the build-up, Gary Speed started this 12 or 13 years ago,” said Page after Sunday’s win against Ukraine.

“I want to dedicate this to Gary. He started the culture, 12 years ago. There was a difference, there was a change. The environment completely changed. I’ve inherited that, Chris Coleman took it on and took it to another level, and I’ve inherited that group.

“We’re confident going into games now. We don’t hope to qualify for the World Cup or Euros now, we believe we can do it, so there’s been a massive change in the mentality as well.

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“I had a difficult decision tonight. I’ve got people like Harry Wilson and Brennan Johnson, who is going to be a superstar, isn’t he. You’ve got people like him who didn’t start tonight. But we had our best 11 on the pitch.

“It’s encouraging, it’s good, we’re going in the right direction. We need to continue to develop these young players that we have done for the last few years, and it’s only going to get better for us.”

Wales will face England, Iran and the USA in Group B at the finals, which get underway in November later this year.

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