How far can Gareth Bale’s Wales go at Euro 2016?
Robbie Purves | June 21, 2016
Wales beat Russia 3-0 to top the table at their first European Championship and win Group B, with much fancied Home Nation foes England finishing second after a turgid 0-0 draw against Slovakia.
Chris Coleman’s side, inspired again by Euro 2016’s top scorer so far Gareth Bale, did what the Three Lions failed to do, and destroyed Russia. The result saw the Dragons leapfrog Roy Hodgson’s men and reach the knockout stages of a major international finals for only the second time in their history.
With Wales on their way into the business end of the tournament, we take a look at who they might face and how far the nation can go at Euro 2016…
Group glory key to tournament success
As group winners, Wales will go to Paris to meet the highest ranked third-placed team from one of Group A, C or D.
It was absolutely crucial Coleman’s side claimed group supremacy, as now they will avoid tricky propositions, including potentially Hungary, Portugal, and tough tournament minnows Iceland.
The likely contenders for Wales are Group C third-place finishers Turkey, who would be no easy opponents. Or they could face rival British nation Northern Ireland, after sealing group progression thanks to a third placed finish.
Wales should have more than enough to overcome these teams, as Coleman seems to have developed something rather special within the Wales squad. The belief and togetherness displayed throughout qualifying and the group stage was a sight to behold.
If they perform the way they did against Slovakia; with Joe Allen controlling midfield, Aaron Ramsey buzzing around the pitch, and Bale ready to convert a mere sniff of a goal; then Wales should have no difficulty reaching the quarters.
Are Bale’s Wales semi-final bound?
The Dragons possess a talented squad and hold a real ace in Euro 2016 joint top scorer so far Gareth Bale.
Fresh off the back of winning his second Champions League trophy with Real Madrid, Bale is driving his nation through the competition, a decade after making his international debut.
The Welsh wizard has registered 58 strikes and 46 assists since arriving in Madrid and was pivotal to Coleman’s side earning qualification, scoring seven vital goals that propelled his nation to the Euros – three of which were game winners.
Bale seems intent on making this his tournament and, for this reason, Wales have a superb chance of beating their potential quarter-final opponents Belgium, despite the Red Devils possessing an enviable squad of their own. The question is, with Marc Wilmots’ team, what side will show up – the group of players that were thrashed by Italy or the outfit that took apart the Republic of Ireland?
The only other international tournament Wales have ever qualified for was the 1958 World Cup in which they were knocked out in the quarter-finals, Coral have them priced at 11/8 to be eliminated at the last eight stage.
Wales bypass powerhouses
Spain’s 2-1 defeat against Croatia meant La Roja finished second in Group D and enter the bottom half of the draw. Alongside them will be World Cup holders Germany, England, the hosts France and Antonio Conte’s Italy – arguably the team of the tournament so far.
This means Wales’ route to the final has just been blown spectacularly wide open. Bale’s Dragons would not play any of those powerhouses until the tournament’s finale, and that makes Coleman’s crew worth a patriotic punt at 9/1 to reach the final.
If Vicente del Bosque’s boys had triumphed over Croatia, they would have likely faced Wales in the semis. The reigning European champions are looking for a third consecutive Euros title and have only lost once in the continental competition finals since 2004.
Spain’s top-drawer squad oozes class; there’s tournament experience in abundance and La Roja know how to win crunch clashes, both on the international and club stage, with 13 Champions League winners among their ranks.
Luckily for the Welsh they don’t have to worry about them for the foreseeable future.
Croatia are now the nation that are likely to be Coleman’s semi-final opponents, if both sides progress. The Blazers are earmarked as many pundits’ dark horses and boast a star-studded squad featuring Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Mario Mandzukic.
Ante Cacic produced a treat for football fans against Spain, his side committed to attack and were full of verve and confidence, forcing the reigning champions into sloppy mistakes. Croatia pressed high and didn’t let La Roja breathe in possession.
Even without star man Modric, they looked classy. Cacic’s team must now consider themselves credible candidates to lift the trophy.
The Blazers’ outstanding midfield could overwhelm the Dragons in the engine room. Allen has been superb at dictating play, but when faced with world-class opposition, may find himself overrun despite Ramsey’s best efforts to cover every blade of grass.
Croatia look as though they will have just too much for Wales in a potential match-up further down the line, so the Dragons are 11/2 to go out in the Euro 2016 semis in what would still be a truly outstanding tournament feat.