Can impressive Wales end the calendar year ahead of England?
As Wales, unbeaten so far in Euro 2016 qualifying Group B, prepare to face Israel in an important duel, Coral experts ask whether Chris Coleman’s dangerous Dragons can end 2015 ranked higher than bitter foes England? Special odds of 13/8 say they can.
The price alone makes this enhanced bet worth a punt, but the race to be top Home Nation, an honour the Three Lions long held but have now lost, is evidently not so cut and dry anymore.
Wales now stand in ninth position in FIFA’s famous world rankings, one spot above their old English enemies for the first time ever, after Roy Hodgson’s boys slipped down to 10th. Can they cling on until the end of the calendar year?
On the cusp of qualification for France, which would be a first-ever Euro finals appearance, the Welsh are also on the verge of winning their pool, containing former favourites Belgium and Bosnia and Herzegovina, that once looked perilous.
The Dragons have so far defied initial low expectations, from fans resigned to being also rans, and now there is a palpable fever and pride surrounding Cardiff City Stadium. A famous victory and also a draw against world number two Belgium has helped propel Coleman’s men up the table, and with those rated their trickiest ties in qualification, there should be a smooth path ahead.
Coach Coleman answered questions about Wales’ new status as top dog, stating: “We’ve been low in the rankings and had that rubbed in our face many a time.
“Now we’re doing very well, certain people want to say the rankings are this and they’re that, but the players deserve it.”
Yet, the boss, who has been integral in the rampant run, following on from Gary Speed, also said “rankings are not going to get us to France. Success is getting to France.”
Wales are clearly not taking their recent success for granted then, and such focus has been evident in their organised and spirited team play, backed up by bullish stats that show-off their miserly backline.
Lead by Swansea City star and inspirational skipper Ashley Williams, the Dragons’ fierce defence has leaked just two, while England, in an arguably easier group containing Estonia, Lithuania, San Marino, Slovenia and Switzerland, have conceded three.
The Land of Castles can also boast a bonafide superstar in Gareth Bale, who stepped up with goal heroics against both Belgium and recently Cyprus, and will be looking to be just as lethal in upcoming clashes. England’s talisman Wayne Rooney, by comparison, has suffered a poor start to the season with club Manchester United, though he remains within touching distance of becoming the Three Lions’ all-time top scorer.
There is still much work for Wales to do, but their spirited performances have been hogging headlines ahead of England, who are used to putting Home Nations rivals in the shade. The Three Lions (4/9 to end 2015 ranked higher than the Dragons) may have to get used to being the British heavyweights no longer, as Wales now need only to triumph against Israel to secure safe Euro 2016 passage.