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Wales want to give their fans 'something to be proud of' after 60-year wait

“When we have an atmosphere like we know they can create, it’s a really tough place to come.”

Wales Training and Press Conference - Cardiff City Stadium Wales full-back Chris Gunter at today's press conference at Cardiff City Stadium. Source: Nick Potts

– Paul Dollery reports from Cardiff

AT CARDIFF CITY Stadium, it’s difficult to avoid the ‘Together Stronger’ slogan that has been adopted by the Wales team.

It’s featured on banners in the concourses, at the back of the stands and was also referenced in this afternoon’s pre-match press conference ahead of tomorrow night’s crucial World Cup qualifier in the Welsh capital.

For Wales full-back Chris Gunter, their bid to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1958 is about much more than just the players. The fans have a vital role to play.

“It could be,” said Gunter, when asked if tomorrow night’s clash with the Republic of Ireland is the biggest game this Wales team has been involved in.

“For the past sort of 12 or 16 months now, every time we meet up with Wales that question seems to be asked. Is it the biggest? We’ve had that for every game since pretty much halfway through the last qualifying campaign.

“It’s a big game but regardless of what’s on the line, I think the one thing we do as a squad is look at the opposition, look at what they’re good at, what they’re not so good at, and have a clear gameplan.

Wales Training and Press Conference - Cardiff City Stadium Wales manager Chris Coleman at his side's training session this afternoon. Source: Nick Potts

“It doesn’t matter who we’re playing. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing, we look at them in the same way. We know it’s a big game, we can’t deny that. But we’ve faced that many times before and I think we’ve got that experience to fall back on.”

Wales are in second place in Group D, one point clear of Ireland in the qualifying campaign for next summer’s tournament in Russia. Serbia will be expected to see off Georgia and qualify automatically, so a play-off place is likely to be the reward for Wales or Ireland depending on how results go elsewhere.

With so much at stake, there’s set to be a special atmosphere tomorrow night at the home of Cardiff City Football Club. A 3,500-strong contingent of Irish supporters will be among the 33,000-plus in attendance.

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“Everybody knows what we’re about as a team, as a squad and as a nation. From the players’ point of view, we know we can rely on each other. We’ve proven that over the years,” said Gunter, who was part of the Wales squad that reached the Euro 2016 semi-finals last year.

“We know we can rely on the fans as well. What they’ve given us over the past couple of years has been fantastic. If we could ask them now for one more real big effort, the last game of the group to come, to really back us and of course they’re going to be nervous and stuff like that, to come and make it a really good atmosphere for us. If they can do that, hopefully we can give them something to be proud of again tomorrow.”

While Ireland haven’t qualified for the tournament since 2002, 14 World Cups have come and gone since Wales last featured. It’s been a long wait that they’re eager to end, and Chris Coleman’s side stayed on track with a 1-0 win away to Georgia on Friday evening.

Georgia v Wales - 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifying - Group D - Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena Wales supporters pictured at Friday's win against Georgia in Tbilisi. Source: Tim Goode

“When you do what we did last summer [at Euro 2016], I think you raise expectations. Certainly when I was growing up as a Welsh fan, I can’t remember too many times at the back end of a Euros or World Cup campaign where with one game to go we’re second in the group and well in it. I think that’s important to remember,” Gunter said.

“As players you’re not thinking about things like that but from a fans’ point of view, turning up tomorrow evening with their team second in the group, there’s a chance obviously of winning the group or being in the play-offs.

“To be in the mix at this stage, there should be excitement and I think there is. You’ve seen the fans after the game on Friday evening, I think they really believe now that we’ve got a good chance.

“Momentum is such a big thing in football. We’re a lot of games unbeaten, we’ve won the last three, three clean sheets and we’ve proven before that when we’re in that frame of mind we’re a tough nation to stop. Hopefully it’s the same again tomorrow night and we can build on that as well.”

The Reading defender added: “Of course the fans are going to be nervous but we really need them to almost fully believe us, to back us and give us one last push because we’ve shown here before that when we have an atmosphere like we know they can create, it’s a really tough place to come.”

Source: The42.ie/YouTube

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Paul Dollery

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