The numbers that prove the fitness gap between Wales and World Cup Group B rivals

Worries about the national team’s stars’ fitness are nothing new – but just how big is the gap to other teams in Qatar?

“THE MEDICAL team [have] got quite a bit of work to do,” said manager Rob Page in the wake of Wales’ 1-1 draw with the USA.

“We’ve got players that are not playing week in week out at a competitive level and they’re cramping up in the last five minutes.”

Page’s focus now is on his team’s recovery ahead of the crucial Iran game on Friday morning, which will likely decide whether Wales qualify from Group B in Qatar.

For fit players, having less minutes in their legs may mean they are fresher and have more energy. But if the lack of minutes is down to injuries or lack of fitness then facing Iran – who are more used to playing in the high temperatures – then Wales may find it harder again than against the US.

So just how big a challenge does the Wales team face compared to the fitness of other teams in the group?

As the above graph shows, Wales’ average minutes of domestic league football is considerably lower across their starting eleven than other group B lineups. Data for league minutes for the Iranian national team are not available.

Players such as Gareth Bale (383 mins played) and Aaron Ramsey (574 mins played) stood out as possible fitness concerns in the build-up to the tournament.

But alongside Wales’ star men, other starters are also lacking game time. Wayne Hennessey started against the US despite having not played a single minute in the league this season, whilst Harry Wilson, who started with Ramsey and Ethan Ampadu in midfield on Monday, has only picked up 267 league minutes this season.

Compared to the rest of the group, Wales’ midfield seems a particular problem area:

And whilst Wales and the USA each lined up with a three-man midfield in their opening clash, England’s minute count stands much higher than Wales’ despite having only gone with two in the base of midfield against Iran.

England’s starters Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund) and Declan Rice (West Ham) have so far featured in every available minute of domestic league action (1,350 each) for their respective club sides, alongside notable appearances in European competitions.

Despite raising concerns ahead of Wales’ next group games against Iran and England on Friday and Tuesday, this lack of relative game time can be seen as just another way ‘little old Wales’ are managing to punch up at this World Cup.

Bale, in particular, once again proved the difference maker in Monday’s draw, despite an otherwise poor performance. He has only played a total of 384 across a string of substitute appearances in the MLS.

Wales’ pundits summed it up best:

“He looked like he was lacking a bit of energy and oomph.” ex-captain Ashley Williams commented after the game. “But he is a leader.

“It wasn’t his best night in a Wales shirt, but he did score the all important goal.”

Page echoed that sentiment in his pitch side interview post-match.

ROB PAGE: “He’s never let us down, has he?”