Wales’ fairytale signals a bright future beyond France
Every football fan knows about Wales’ hard-luck story when it comes to qualifying for major international tournaments. The Dragons’ current tally is representation at just one World Cup, way back in 1958, though they have famously never featured at a European Championship.
All that could be about to change now, however, after the Welsh surged to the top of Group B with a famous win over Belgium and, though it always looked likely that Chris Coleman’s side could mount a credible qualifying challenge, few but the most fervent Wales fans could have hoped for a campaign as impressive as this.
This pool looked to initially pose problems in the form of star-studded Belgium. plus Bosnia and Herzegovina sides, not to mention hostile trips to surprise packages Israel and Cyprus, who have proven to be spirited, with only unfortunate minnows Andorra providing the cannon-fodder.
Wales have more than held their own after going six games unbeaten, though – a rampant run Coleman will be hoping to extend to the final four duels, as the Land of Castles look to have one foot in the France finals. Qualification was the aim, but potentially winning Group B (which they are 11/10 do to with Coral) a dream.
Despite the plucky performances that saw talisman Gareth Bale and co scalp Israel in Haifa and shut out both Belgium and Bosnia, it was not until their most crucial and recent victory at the Cardiff City Stadium against the Red Devils, that Wales truly signaled their arrival.
Well-organised sides can always pull off giant-killings, but this lauded result looks like the continuation of a cycle in what has been a superb string of results, rather than an anomaly.
True, Roma midfielder Radja Nainggolan’s poor header back to Chelsea custodian Thibaut Courtois allowed Bale, more often that not brilliant for his nation, an incredibly lucky opening, but the Real Madrid superstar made his 24th minute finish look easy. Watch Bale’s goal here:
Yet for all the fear Bale’s raw pace, plus Aaron Ramsey’s passing range and the hard work of Reading forward Hal Robson-Kanu, it is Wales’ robust rearguard, marshaled by skipper and Swansea City centre half Ashley Williams and shielded by Liverpool midfielder Joe Allen, which should also be credited with this international revival.
The Dragons have always had dangerous individuals able to bring a moment of star quality, from Ryan Giggs to Craig Bellamy, but now they have a truly fantastic team spirit and solid spine to boot, brimming with belief.
Tenacious tackles and the repelling of the Red Devils, currently ranked second in the world by FIFA, looked to be cheered just as enthusiastically as forays forward by the passionate support, and defensive dedication will be key should they make it across the channel for Euro 2016.
Speaking after the landmark clash, Coleman was cautious, and told media: “We’re embracing the pressure. The players and fans deserve to enjoy it because they’ve come through a lot, but there’s a lot more to go through yet.
“That was the biggest win but I believe there’s a bigger one coming in this campaign. I don’t know when it will be. It will be the one which says we’re going to France,” he added.
Reaching France would undeniably be a fantastic achievement but, with Bale, 25, and Ramsey, 24, both arguably not yet at their peak, there is no reason that Wales should not at least aspire to more.
Russia 2018 may seem a giant leap at this point, but the challenge for the Dragons is to keep pushing on, and ensure that should they make it, France 2016 is merely a stage their development, not the destination.