Wales U-20 kicked off their Toulon tournament with a draw against host nation France U-19 on Monday. The Young Dragons, led by Robert Page, showed no stage fright in their first taste of youth international tournament football.
The young Les Blues also played well in their opening fixture. The French U-19 team are competing in Toulon, as the U-20's are at the U-20 World Cup in South Korea.
The Welsh Way
It was an archetypal Welsh performance from the U-20's. Wales were set-up to be compact and tough to break down, much like the senior squad, and lighting quick on the counter.
Mark Harris was deployed in a centre forward role similar to that of Hal Robson-Kanu at last summer's senior European Championships. The young Cardiff City striker chased down everything and tried to link up with flair players Nathan Broadhead and Daniel James. Manchester United youngster Regan Poole was deployed in a holding midfield role.
First half stalemate
The first half was entertaining, even though neither side could break the deadlock. Despite being on the back foot, the first real chance fell to France. Jean Ruiz, of Sochaux, got on the end of a cross in the early exchanges and forced Welsh stopper Luke Pilling into a save.
Wales were also very bright in the first half. Everton's Nathan Broadhead caused constant problems for the French, as he operated between the lines for the Welsh. In the 15th minute, Broadhead made a surging run before playing in Swansea City's Daniel James - who blasted over from 12 yards out.
France grew into the game as the half went on. Nicolas Janiver, of Rennes, began to boss the midfield and went close with a long range effort. Both sides went into the break tied.
Back and forth second half
The game continued in its open nature in the second half. Broadhead continued to be a thorn in the French side in the second half and almost put Wales ahead after the break. Broadhead once again created problems for the French before firing at Montpellier ‘keeper Dimitry Bertaud.
Wales looked dangerous on the attack and improved once again when West Brom's Tyler Robert's came on. The 18 year-old - who has trained several times with Chris Coleman’s men - expertly controlled a pass from Broadhead, before having his attempt charged down.
Jack Evans then missed a gilt edge chance. The Swansea City midfield was one on one with keeper after being put through by Broadhead. The 19 year old hit the shot low but was denied by Bertaud.
Florian Aye of Auxerre went close with a curling shot that went just inches wide of the Pilling's post. France then looked like they would be the ones to find an opening. Janiver and Abdoulaye Sissako controlled the midfield well and dangermen Aye, Bilal Boutobba caused the Welsh defence problems – thought the young Dragons did respond. Boutobba forced two spectacular saves from Pilling in the late stages.
Bright future for the Welsh
Wales looked right at home in their first taste of a major competition. The youngsters defender stoutly and the attacking players linked up in a very fluid manner.
The young Dragons were invited to Toulon, on the back of the senior squad's impressive Euro 2016 – but proved they deserved to be here with the quality in the side.
Robert Page has also shown his qualities as a coach. The 41 times- capped Welsh international could also be a replacement for Coleman following the 2018 World Cup.