Wales expect Ben Woodburn to ‘thrive’ in Gareth Bale’s absence

Wales teenager Ben Woodburn has been backed to “thrive” and fill the huge void left by Gareth Bale’s World Cup absence.

Real Madrid star Bale will miss the final two games against Georgia and the Republic of Ireland after being ruled out with a calf strain.

But David Edwards believes Liverpool youngster Woodburn — who scored the winner on his Wales debut against Austria last month less than five minutes after coming on as a substitute — could prove a trump card again this week.

“I’ve seen a lot of Ben in this campaign and he reminds me of what Gareth was like when he was younger,” Reading midfielder Edwards said.

“And if you see what Gareth was like in the Euros, the bigger the stage, the more he thrives.

“There aren’t many players who can do that when the whole world is watching.

“But from what I’ve seen I’m pretty sure Ben is cut from the same cloth and he will relish the chance to show everyone he is the real deal.”

Wales are currently second in Group D, four points behind leaders Serbia and one above the Republic.

Chris Coleman’s side must win their final two games to guarantee themselves at least a play-off spot next month.

Edwards accepts Wales will miss Bale in Tbilisi tomorrow night and then at home to the Republic three days later.

But he insists the depth of Welsh football compared to when he made his debut a decade ago means that Wales are better equipped to cover Bale’s absence. “Gareth told me the news and your heart sinks a little bit when you first hear it,” Edwards said.

“But we did it in the summer when we had to go to Serbia, we put on a performance and drew 1-1 without Gareth (who was suspended).

“It’s not like when I first played for Wales, because the gaffer has options and players who can come in, do a job and help to get those three points.

“It’s a million miles apart, it really is, from when I was first in the squad. When I started you could not replace a Craig Bellamy or a Simon Davies, it was too hard to fill their boots.

“But now I look around at the quality and the number of Premier League players.

“And it’s not just Premier League players, but top Premier League players.

“They proved in the Euros (when Wales reached the semi-finals) they can do it on the big stage because this is the best shape Welsh football has ever been in.”

Wales’ squad was disrupted further yesterday when Norwich forward Marley Watkins was forced out by injury.

Barnsley’s Ryan Hedges has been called into the senior squad for the first time after representing Wales at U19 and U21 level.

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