WALES V BELGIUM (World Cup qualifier, tonight, KO 7.45)
CAPTAIN Aaron Ramsey insists the spirit in the Wales camp is as strong as ever with the players determined to succeed in memory of Gary Speed.
Wales’ road to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil begins tonight with highly-rated Belgium the visitors to the Cardiff City stadium.
It’s the first game that Speed picked for his charges before his death in November last year and Wales supporter groups have began using a hashtag #RioforSpeedo on Twitter.
Ramsey admits paying tribute to Speed with performances is Wales’ priority and his claims about a positive atmosphere in the camp were substantiated yesterday during a press briefing.
While Ramsey and Chris Coleman talked to the press a raucous game of table tennis between Gareth Bale and Adam Matthews had the squad captivated and cracking jokes.
“As a squad we are absolutely motivated by doing it for Gary,” he said. “This first game was the target, qualifying for Brazil is our target.
“We go into the campaign full of confidence, all the players know how Gary felt about our chances and we want to do it for him.
“We put the two recent friendly losses behind us now and hopefully we can get off to a good start.
“The loss of Gary was a massive influence, it had a massive effect on us.
“After all his hard work and the enjoyment of playing under him, the improvements under him, it’s been difficult to deal with.
“But we want to carry his philosophy on and get back to the way we were. We expect a much better performance tonight.”
Ramsey insists there is no reason Wales shouldn’t feel qualification is a realistic prospect despite a group also featuring Croatia, Serbia, Scotland and Macedonia.
“We are a lot more positive going into this campaign, we have a good team with good players,” he said.
“Belgium are a good team with good individuals and we are underdogs but we’ll use that to our advantage.
“You can’t underestimate the talent or ability in their team but we are no different, we have to concentrate on our game.”
And while the likes of Mousa Dembele, Marouane Fellaini and Eden Hazard are a worry for Wales’ fans, Ramsey is certain the ace in the pack wears a Dragon on his shirt.
He said: “Personally, I wouldn’t swap any of their players for Gareth Bale.
“For a couple of years he’s always been a threat to the opposition by creating and scoring goals... he’d worry any defence in the world.
“He can create something out of nothing and that’s rare.”