NO WORLD Cup to look forward to, no Gareth Bale, no Aaron Ramsey, no big names in the opposition team – the attractions of tonight’s international friendly against Panama are not immediately obvious but it’s set to be a big night for Newport football.

Front and centre will be our own Chris Gunter, who will captain Wales for the first time on the night he equals Gary Speed’s record number of caps for an outfield player.

The Newport-born defender will win his 85th cap this evening and, at 28, he looks a certainty to overtake Neville Southall’s current record of 92 and become the first player to reach 100 for Wales.

And it couldn’t happen to a nicer bloke.

Gunter deserves all the plaudits coming his way this week for a decade of national service.

He always turns up, he always puts in 100 per cent and he simply loves playing for his country.

And, from a media point of view, he’s always willing to stop and speak to reporters after matches – win, lose or draw.

More importantly, he’s also a hugely under-rated footballer as he proved at Euro 2016 with that perfect cross for Sam Vokes to finally kill off Belgium on that never-to-be-forgotten night in Lille.

The link to Speed will make it an even more poignant night for Gunter and family.

“To get to a number of caps in line with somebody of that stature in Welsh football is a nice thing to have,” he said this week.

“Everybody knows what he was and is for Welsh football so to get to 85 caps is a nice thing.

“Hopefully there will be a few more to come but it will be a nice feeling.

“A hundred caps is still a long way away and you never know what’s around the corner in football.

“My aim as a player is to turn up and play well.

“The aim is never to get to a certain number of caps, it’s to make sure that when you’re on the pitch you do well.

“Of course, everybody would love to get to 100 caps but the immediate focus is on the pitch and making sure, as a player, you perform.”

And leading out the team as captain is just reward for such a loyal servant.

“The gaffer told me on Friday after the game when we were back at the hotel,” revealed Gunter.

“When you’re growing up as a kid you want to be a footballer and you want to play for your country but you probably never think about being the captain for your country.

“So to do it is the biggest honour I can get in my career. It will be a really proud night for my family and friends that are coming and it will be a special feeling because of what it means for me to play for Wales.

“All Welsh people would love to play for their national team and for me to be captain is a dream come true.”

That connection with the fans has led to Gunter becoming something of a cult hero for the Red Wall but he modestly insists that his teammates are just as passionate about playing for Wales as he is.

“All players at one point were fans but the relationship I have with the fans has almost come from nowhere,” he said.

“I’ve always felt appreciated but when we’ve done well over the last two or three years the feeling I get from fans is something I’ve never experienced.

“It does help me and I think they appreciate how much I appreciate them.

“I think they like me for it but we do have a squad who are just as proud to come and play.

“It’s not just me and I think you can see that in the squad in terms of how special it is for us as a group of players to turn up and play for your country.”

Gunter’s first match as captain could well end up being Chris Coleman’s last as national manager and the boss is set to name an experimental side packed with youthful talent.

South Wales Argus:

Most of the focus has been on the ‘holy trinity’ of 16-year-old Ethan Ampadu, 18-year-old Ben Woodburn and 20-year-old David Brooks.

Woodburn has already made a big impact in the World Cup qualifiers and Ampadu and Brooks were both handed their debuts as substitutes during Friday friendly defeat to France in Paris.

All three are set to start tonight and hopefully we will also finally get to see the debut, long-awaited in these parts, of Newport’s Lee Evans (in action for the under-21s above).

The former Newport County AFC midfielder was first called up by Coleman in October 2014 but he has yet to win a senior cap and, at 23, it might be a case of now or never for the Exiles academy graduate.