Albania 1-0 Wales
Wales suffered an embarrassing 1-0 friendly defeat in Albania to take the shine off Chris Gunter’s record-breaking 93rd appearance. Gunter captained his country for only the second time as he surpassed Neville Southall’s existing mark of 92 caps, though the visitors failed to produce a performance to match Gunter’s achievement.
A much-changed and youthful Wales side squandered a host of chances to take the lead against the hosts, ranked 60th in the world and smarting from a 4-0 home thrashing by Scotland on Saturday.
Albania opened the scoring in the second half with their first shot on target and only their third goal in nine matches, as Bekim Balaj struck with a penalty after Harry Wilson brought down Taulant Xhaka.It was a particularly galling concession for Wales, as Xhaka was fortunate to have avoided a red card in the first half after headbutting David Brooks.
Wales were then denied a clear penalty of their own when Wilson was scythed down by Bekim Balaj and, although such decisions ultimately mean little in a friendly fixture, a fifth defeat from his first nine matches in charge will concern Wales manager Ryan Giggs.
A dependable and unfussy full-back, Gunter has spent much of his career away from the limelight. But despite his typically modest protestations, this match was all about him.From his debut as a 17-year-old to a staggering sequence of 63 consecutive starts from 2010 to September this year, Gunter has become as firm a Welsh football establishment as the red shirt.
It was fitting too that his record-breaking appearance should come thousands of miles from home, against the kind of unglamorous opponents Wales have faced for the majority of the 29-year-old’s international career.
Such is the Reading right-back’s standing among Wales’ fans that 1,800 of them made the long journey to the tiny Elbasan Arena, almost outnumbering the home support.
The travelling contingent cheered Gunter’s every touch, sang his name and even had the tantalising prospect of seeing him score his first international goal shortly before half-time – only for his left-footed strike to roll harmlessly towards home goalkeeper Etrit Berisha.
The match did not get much better for Gunter and his team-mates as they slumped to a defeat which was as lacklustre as it was unexpected.Wales fans with a fondness for self-deprecating humour may even suggest that a defeat of this nature was almost fitting in its own, perverse kind of way.
Gunter has endured many lows with Wales as well as the searing highs, as a part of teams which languished outside the top 100 in the world rankings, as well as an important member of the side which reached the Euro 2016 semi-finals.
But Wales’ defeat against Albania was no way to honour such a loyal servant who, while reluctant to receive adulation, always insists the result is most important and will therefore be thoroughly disheartened by this display.
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