Chris Coleman and Osian Roberts were in sombre mood, there were tears in Aaron Ramsey's eyes and one of the chairs at the top table had to be removed just before we were due to get underway because Craig Bellamy felt it would be too emotional for him to speak. This, in other words, was no ordinary pre-match press conference.

A little more than three months ago, Gary Speed sat in a suite at the same St David's hotel on Cardiff Bay, addressing the media with that trademark smile before an international friendly against Norway. At the Cardiff City Stadium on Wednesday night, Wales take on Costa Rica in a memorial match to remember and celebrate Speed's life. It is difficult to comprehend.

Figures from across the world of football will attend, including almost 50 former internationals who appeared alongside Speed during the 14 years he represented Wales with distinction, winning more caps (85) than any other outfield player. Ryan Giggs, John Hartson, Kevin Ratcliffe, Mark Hughes, Neville Southall and Robbie Savage will be among those on the pitch at half-time, on an evening when there is unlikely to be a dry eye in the stadium.

Roger, Speed's father, will pop into the home changing room before the game to thank the current squad and there will be another moving moment closer to kick-off, when Bellamy and Ramsey walk out alongside Speed's teenage sons, Ed and Tommy. Ramsey is unable to play because of an ankle injury picked up playing for Arsenal but the 21-year-old whom Speed appointed as his captain last March said that he wants to pay his respects to "a great guy and a great manager".

Bellamy, fittingly, will wear the armband. He played alongside Speed at Newcastle United and it is a measure of how close the two of them were that barely a week went by in the past decade when they failed to speak. "It's an obvious choice [as captain]," said Roberts, who was a member of Speed's staff and will take charge of the team on Wednesday night, assisted by Coleman. "Craig is very close to the family, and the boys, Ed and Tom, are extremely close to him. He's a hero of theirs."

With that in mind, it was understandable that Bellamy had a last-minute change of heart about baring his soul in front of a roomful of reporters. "He's not the type of person to dodge anything, but I think it's more the emotional factor, which I completely understand," Coleman said. "He's had a long-term relationship with Speeds and now there are different faces involved in the equation. Speedo's family are going to be coming down, a lot of people are going to be arriving to pay their respects and it's going to be difficult for Bellers."

It is possible that Bellamy will be making a valedictory appearance for Wales, although Coleman remains hopeful that will not be the case. "I have to try and put myself in Craig's shoes. He has known Gary a long time and was very close to him and his family. He came out of retirement for Gary. And he's not here now. It's not an easy one for Bellers. I won't take it to heart if he comes out and says that he won't do it. I will understand. But I hope that's not the situation."

The Wales manager has been forced to change his own plans to watch the game from the stands because of Raymond Verheijen's ill-timed decision to resign as assistant manager last Friday following a row with the Football Association of Wales. Coleman sensibly refused to wade into the issue on the eve of the match. "Anything I say about that person will take a little bit of the headlines or the spotlight away from the most important person really who is Gary Speed. So I don't want to comment. Wednesday has got to be about Gary."

That was the overriding message when the Wales squad assembled for a meeting on Monday morning, when they watched footage of Speed as a player and a manager and were offered the opportunity to talk about the man whose brief time in charge of the national team brought renewed hope. "It was productive in terms of you could feel the togetherness and the warmth," Coleman said. "It was touching and it was something that needed to be done."

Amid all the sadness and tributes, it is easy to forget that there is a football match to be played after the minute's applause. In the circumstances it feels like the scoreline is irrelevant, although Speed would probably argue otherwise. "I know this man as well as anybody," said Coleman. "He'd want us to keep going where he left off."

Wales: (4-2-3-1) Brown; Ricketts, Blake, Williams, Taylor; Crofts, Allen; Bale Ledley, Bellamy; Morison

Costa Rica: (4-5-1) Navas; Salvatierra, Umana, Acosta, Miller; Oviedo, Ruiz, Azofeifa, Barrantes, Brenes; Campbell

Referee: H Webb (Eng)