At least there was no stoppage time. It was a friendly game the Wales manager, Rob Page, confessed he did not really want and so perhaps it was inevitable his team would play out a forgettable stalemate in their first meeting with South Korea.
The preface to the match was Wales’s sorry record of late – it is now one win in 13 matches – and if that does not improve in Latvia on Monday, when they resume their ailing Euro 2024 qualifying campaign, the glare will only intensify on the under-pressure Page.
The announced attendance of 13,668 is the lowest home crowd for four years. By the end those Wales supporters who did bother resorted to making their own entertainment, singing the substitute David Brooks’s name on loop for almost the entire final 15 minutes. If anything encapsulated the occasion it was the sight of Son Heung-min leaning on his Tottenham clubmate, friend and opponent for the night Joe Rodon to shake off a bout of cramp in the closing stages.
Uefa regulations stipulate that nations in odd-numbered qualifying groups must fulfil blank dates in the calendar when group rivals are playing and so here was the non-event seemingly nobody wanted. “I said I didn’t want to play it and I got criticised for saying it but that’s the truth,” Page said afterwards. “From a selfish point of view, I stick by that. We didn’t want any injuries. We’ve got a load of positives out of it and we take that momentum on to Monday’s game.”
The Wales substitute Kieffer Moore, who is suspended for Latvia, hit a post with a header midway through the second half and Harry Wilson saw an effort saved early in the first after a slick interchange involving Ethan Ampadu and Nathan Broadhead, on his first start. Son hit the target from 25 yards but was chaperoned throughout by a posse of Wales defenders. “No matter where Sonny plays, he is always followed by two or three defenders,” said the South Korea manager, Jürgen Klinsmann. “Even if he goes to the sideline they will not leave him alone.”
The Red Wall was noticeably depleted but there were stray horns throughout courtesy of some home supporters intent on making a racket and the South Korea fans homed in a pocket of this stadium were backed by the sound of a couple of drums. Ian Rush and Neville Southall were among those to deem it a worthwhile outing, the latter armed with a handheld fan to cope with the heat.
It was hardly fever pitch but not everything was friendly. Page asked questions of the Scottish officials after Kim Min-jae, the Bayern Munich defender nicknamed the Monster owing to his imposing frame, barged Brennan Johnson without even trying to pretend he was making a play for the ball. These were Johnson’s first minutes since a £47.5m deadline-day move to Tottenham and he was replaced by Moore at the interval, part of a planned double substitution with Joe Morrell, also suspended for Latvia, taking Ampadu’s spot in midfield.
Wales’s starting lineup in Riga is unlikely to be too different, save for Aaron Ramsey’s inclusion from the off. Wales made a triple change on the hour, seconds after Hwang In-beom drilled a shot into a stanchion. Ramsey, back playing his club football here for his boyhood club, replaced Wilson while Wes Burns and Josh Sheehan, of Ipswich and Bolton respectively, arrived in place of Neco Williams and Jordan James, another to do himself justice on his first start for his country.