Speed calls on squad to raise game

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Wales’ former Sheffield United manager Gary Speed has called on his players to be tougher on themselves in order to help them reach a first major finals since 1958.

Welsh hopes of reaching next summer’s Euro 2012 finals are over after suffering four defeats from their first four Group G encounters, but Speed believes they can mount a strong bid to reach the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Last weekend’s World Cup draw grouped Wales with Croatia, Serbia, Belgium, Scotland and Macedonia in Group A and Speed believes it is a draw that gives his side a chance.

He said: “The quality of the players gives me confidence. The players have taken on board what we are trying to do in a short space of time and the squad is young enough that we can be together for a long time.

“We have experienced players like Danny Gabbidon, Robert Earnshaw and Craig Bellamy and even young guys like Joe Ledley and Gareth Bale have plenty of caps.

“We now have to be more demanding of each other and the players have to be more demanding of themselves and each other because it will be hard work qualifying for the World Cup.

“We feel we have got a chance, although we know it will be difficult, and we believe on our day we can beat all those nations.”

Preparations for that World Cup campaign, which begins in just over 12 months, begin with a friendly against Australia at Cardiff City Stadium on Wednesday.

Speed yesterday named a 25-man panel for that fixture, including Bellamy and Bale.

While a nine-man standby list would suggest that the former Blades boss expects to see a few withdrawals ahead of the fixture, he sees the clash with the Socceroos as an ideal test for his players.

“We want to win any game we enter. Australia are a strong nation and we believe that playing strong nations will benefit our development,” he said.

“We have just come back from the World Cup draw and this time next year we will be starting that campaign, so we have to use our games between now and then, even though we will desperately want to win them, to make sure we get right for those qualifiers.”