Euro 2020 preview, Group A – Wales: Dean Saunders backs Wales’ attacking talent
Our Matchday Squad will cover every nation at the Euros
For Euro 2020, we’ve assembled 24 expert journalists to give you the latest insight and tips on every team throughout the tournament.
Here, former Wales international Dean Saunders gives us his take on Wales…
Give us an overview of your team’s chances at Euro 2020
Wales are going into Euro 2020 in good form, having only lost a couple of their last fifteen matches. Robert Page is a good manager who has worked with a lot of the younger players for a number of years now and that experience and knowledge has helped create a strong togetherness and positive atmosphere in the squad.
There are some concerns over the fitness of Ben Davies and Joe Allen but other than that the squad is at full strength and will be looking to repeat the success that they achieved at Euro 2016. Without getting carried away, Wales will be looking to get through the group.
The first game will be vitally important in a tough group, but if we can get a win over Switzerland in the first game, it will set us up to progress and then see how far we can go once we make the knockout stages. Turkey and Italy complete a very hard group, but you can qualify by finishing third in your group so, if they can get a victory in the first match, it would go a long way to securing qualification. There is a lot of belief in the squad that they can go deep into the tournament like they did five years ago.
What would you say are your team’s major strengths?
The attacking players are definitely the strongest part of the squad, with pace, power and ability in abundance.
Whoever plays in the midfield and attack will cause problems for any defence and whilst you have Gareth Bale in your team, you can beat anybody in the world.
Dan James brings so much pace to the side, Harry Wilson, David Brooks and Aaron Ramsey are all so talented and Kieffer Moore upfront as a target man provides a different threat and he is coming into the tournament off the back of a good season for Cardiff.
And any weaknesses?
There is possibly an over reliance on Gareth Bale but that is only natural when you have a player of his stature and ability in your squad. I was also surprised to see Hal Robson-Kanu left out of the squad, whilst he hasn’t played regularly for West Brom this season, he is a player who can open up a defence out of nothing and he will be missed.
The defence looks to be the weakest part of the squad and we might see Page employ a back five to try to get some better protection defensively. Not many of the defenders play at the highest level and any injuries would mean we would be playing players who are playing in the Championship or below, who may struggle against some of the best attacking players in Europe.
Wayne Hennessey and Danny Ward are both excellent goalkeepers but are out of match practice as they are not starters at their clubs and that is also an area of a concern.
Give us the lowdown on your team’s star player?
I coached Gareth Bale at a young age and he was a level above everybody else even before he had made his debut for Wales. He has gone on to become absolutely world class.
I am surprised that he has been in and out of the team at Tottenham this season as I would always select him in my side as a pure matchwinner. He has proven when he has played that is still a magnificent player and is coming into the tournament in good form now with a hat-trick and a brace in the last few weeks of the Premier League.
If Bale plays well, Wales can win any game at this tournament regardless of who they come up against. There have been question marks over his motivation over the last couple of seasons at club level but for Wales he has remained as committed as ever and he can lead from the front at Euro 2020.
And tell us about a player from your team who could be a breakthrough star at this tournament?
David Brooks has been unlucky with injuries over the last few seasons but had an excellent season last year for Bournemouth in the Premier League and he can shine this summer for Wales. He creates and scores goals. If he is fully fit, played in the right position and role, he can be the star player behind Gareth Bale.
Harry Wilson is incredibly talented too but Brooks for me will be the one to watch. He has everything he needs to become a top player and after some unfortunate luck over the last couple of seasons, it just hasn’t quite happened yet. Everything seems to be falling right for him now in the build up to the tournament and this can be the first time he really does it on the big stage.
How far do you think your team can go in this tournament?
We are definitely aiming to progress through the group but just to reach the knockout stages would represent a good tournament for Wales. We are one of the smaller nations in terms of size, so to get any further would be punching above our weight. A lot of the teams we are up against have much bigger pools of players to select from so that is always going to hold us back in some respects.
To reach the semi-finals in 2016 was unbelievable and beyond our wildest dreams. In the end we were beaten by Portugal who won the tournament too. This time around, just to get out to groups is the aim and then take one game at a time and see how far we can get.
Easy one to finish with, who wins the tournament, and who do you think will be top scorer?
I think it is a very open tournament but I do think France are the strongest of the leading contenders. I’m backing Timo Werner to catch fire this summer and be top scorer.