South Wales Echo - - FRONT PAGE - CHRIS WATHAN Chief foot­ball cor­re­spon­dent chris.wathan@waleson­

THERE was more than one mo­ment when, at Cardiff City Sta­dium, minds wan­dered to what might have been.

Around half as full as it was a month ago, the empty seats told a tale that there had been other plans and hopes for this Novem­ber week.

Yet, those who were there, were given proof, if proof was needed, that the full story of this Wales team is yet to come.

Hopes of vic­tory were dashed in in­jury time when Ar­mando Cooper broke free to can­cel out Tom Lawrence’s de­light­ful 75th minute strike, though the plot ran deeper than the score­line as David Brooks, Ben Wood­burn and Ethan Am­padu showed there is rea­son to look for­ward.

A new chap­ter awaits. One in­volv­ing new, youth­ful, char­ac­ters.

Who will over­see the writ­ing of it is still not clear.

Chris Cole­man, the au­thor of so much re­cent suc­cess, is still un­cer­tain as to whether he will pen his name next to a new con­tract.

There was no un­cer­tainty from the Red Wall; the game was not three min­utes old be­fore the chants of ‘we want you to stay’ were aired.

Cole­man waved in ac­knowl­edge­ment and, while im­por­tant dis­cus­sions on how to move for­ward are due, it is hard to imag­ine that, af­ter watch­ing this, the 47-year-old will not be en­thused and ex­cited about what is still to come.

Granted, the late, late equaliser will also re­mind all that Wales will not want to go over old ground as the story of the last cam­paign spoiled an other­wise pos­i­tive evening.

But while minds un­der­stand­ably wan­dered to Dublin and ‘what ifs,’ they were of­ten quickly fo­cused on the fu­ture un­fold­ing in front of them.

If it is to prove to be Cole­man’s fi­nal match in charge, then it was fit­ting in many ways. The suc­cess of his reign came from build­ing on the foun­da­tions of oth­ers, the ex­pe­ri­ence handed out to tal­ented young­sters at a young age. Chris Gunter, cap­tain as he equalled Gary Speed’s ap­pear­ance record for an out­field player and an ever-re­li­able ever-present through Cole­man’s time, was tes­ta­ment to that.

Here it was Cole­man’s turn, not for his ben­e­fit but the side’s. Am­padu, Brooks and Wood­burn will all be bet-

ter for evening’s like this when they learned from mis­takes and were lifted by suc­cesses.

Of which there were many. The move­ment, the tech­nique, the touches and turns brought both smiles from sup­port­ers and op­por­tu­ni­ties in the fi­nal third.

With an av­er­age age of 24 and only David Ed­wards north of 30, this was thought to be the youngest side named by Cole­man.

And one fac­ing World Cup qual­i­fiers with 574 caps and the kind of phys­i­cal cun­ning as­so­ci­ated with cen­tral Amer­i­can sides. Pos­i­tive when they could be, it was per­fect op­po­si­tion for those learn­ing about in­ter­na­tional foot­ball and still hav­ing the chance to play.

Which Wales did with plenty of op­ti­mism. Within five min­utes Brooks – surely soon to be chris­tened Dai hav­ing opted against his Eng­land el­i­gi­bil­ity – had nut­megged a marker and found Wood­burn on his wave­length and at the end of a cross.

Soon af­ter Am­padu added him­self into the mix, win­ning pos­ses­sion with a strength that made a mock­ery of his 17 years and see­ing Brooks again reach Wood­burn, whose header needed to be saved by Los Canaleros’ Jaime Penedo. Vokes was the next to ben­e­fit, not far away from smash­ing from range af­ter Wood­burn’s tenac­ity and per­sis­tence turned over Panama ball.

Brooks has not re­ceived the same at­ten­tion as Wood­burn up to this point, the 20-year-old’s Cham­pi­onship sta­tus with Sh­effield United not as head­line-grab­bing as the lat­ter’s with Liver­pool, but he was quick to make an im­pres­sion here. A glid­ing run­ner, he al­ways looked ea­ger for the ball and rarely wasted it when he got it. Like­wise Amapdu, who was as com­fort­able is­su­ing in­struc­tions to more sea­soned internationals around him as he was spray­ing passes. There is still a de­bate as to where the Chelsea star­let will find his best po­si­tion but, at the right times, he popped up all over the park, not afraid to throw him­self into a tackle when it was needed.

One such chal­lenge earned a book­ing – an­other les­son learned – though what also caught the eye was the way se­nior men made sure that there was a pro­tec­tion for the red rook­ies that was once of­fered them. Words were had by Gunter to Ri­cardo Avila for his at­ten­tion to Brooks. It saw a head­butt aimed the de­fender’s way, though no red card. Wales’ jus­tice came when Brooks en­cour­aged David Ed­wards’ 41st minute surge into the box to win a penalty, though Vokes aimed his low shot too close to the keeper to bring the goal the play had de­served.

Like the penalty, there were er­rors. Not ev­ery pass was pre­cise, some­times the ball was held a lit­tle too long and, though their fear­less­ness was re­fresh­ing, there will be games where the touches and tricks will have to be more con­cen­trated. There will be bet­ter op­po­si­tion.

But that will come, as Wales have seen once be­fore.

And this group will be bet­ter for this ex­pe­ri­ence, es­pe­cially when it looked like be­ing a win­ning one courtesy of Lawrence. At 23 and this is twelfth cap, the Derby man is hardly a vet­eran him­self, though took is goal with the com­po­sure of a player not fazed by this level. Pick­ing the ball wide on the left, drift­ing in­side and curl­ing into the bot­tom cor­ner, it was a goal to suit the oc­ca­sion.

As Ryan Hedges – one of four debu­tants from the bench to join Tom Lock­yer, Mar­ley Watkins and Lee Evans – got in on the act, weav­ing an open­ing, a piledriver from sub­sti­tute An­drew Crofts al­most made it two.

As it was, as Panama scram­bled clear from de­fen­sive er­ror in in­jury time for Cooper to blast past Danny Ward, it was they who had a last word on the night.

But it re­mained a night which re­minded there are chap­ters still to come. Whether it is to be un­der Cole­man, that’s an­other story.

Ben Wood­burn looks to shake off the at­ten­tions of Panama’s Blas Perez

Sam Vokes hides his head af­ter miss­ing a penalty at the Cardiff City Sta­dium

Ethan Am­padu im­pressed as he took an­other step onto the in­ter­na­tional stage

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