WALES manager Chris Coleman has backed Newport’s James Collins to defy his critics and play a big part in the World Cup 2014 qualifying campaign.
The centre-back, who rejoined West Ham United this summer, came under fire for withdrawing from the squad to face Bosnia-Herzegovina in a friendly earlier this month only to play for the Hammers four days later.
Collins has had an increasingly poor record with injuries over the last two seasons, as well as off-the-filed problems at previous club Aston Villa.
If the 29-year-old plays in the first qualifier against Belgium at the Cardiff City Stadium next Friday night it will be his first appearance for his country since the Euro 2012 qualifier against England in March 2011.
But Coleman, who failed in his attempt to bring English-born centre-backs Ryan Shawcross and Ben Turner into the squad last week, insists that Collins is still a big part of his plans.
“He missed the last game with a groin problem but he played the next game for West Ham and he was outstanding against Aston Villa,” said the Wales boss.
“I watched him against Swansea where he made the mistake for the second goal and he didn’t play in the cup game but I’m told he’ll be OK for us.
“James has got a lot of experience in the Premier League and on the international stage and when he’s fit and he’s on it he’s an added advantage for us.”
Coleman also defended Collins after he came under fire from former international Mickey Thomas for his frequent withdrawals from Wales squads.
“To be fair to James, he turned up for the Costa Rica game but got an injury and I left him out of the Mexico game because I wanted to look at Darcy Blake,” said Coleman.
“I’ve had no indication from James that he doesn’t want to be considered and until I do I’ll continue to look to include him.”
Goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey is again absent and is set to miss Wales’ first four qualifiers as he continues to recover from a cruciate knee ligament injury.
Joe Ledley is also out of the Belgium match and the trip to Serbia on September 11 through injury.
Ledley picked up a groin problem in Celtic’s Champions League qualifying win over Helsingborg last weekend and will miss the clashes in Cardiff and Novi Sad.
He joins Sunderland’s David Vaughan on the sidelines with uncapped Crystal Palace midfielder Jonathan Williams and Leicester City’s Andy King coming into the 23-man group.
“Belgium and Serbia is a tough start for us but if we can get to half way in this group and be in with a shout then you never know what can happen,” said Coleman as he announced his squad in Cardiff yesterday.
“But we’ve seen it before under Terry Yorath and Mark Hughes that a sequence of wins can propel you up the table.
“With back to back games you have to get it right two games running and if you do it gives you great confidence.”