Euro 2016: Bale fires up Wales for the finals
After almost 60 years in the wilderness, Wales are finally back in the big time
It may be unfair to suggest they are a one-man team but if Gareth Bale has been hit by a bus in the days immediately before you read this, then feel free to regard what follows as significantly outdated. Of just 11 goals in qualifying, the Real Madrid man bagged seven and it really does seem fair to suggest that his importance to the side goes beyond his measurable contribution. Still, there are some decent other players with the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Ashley Williams, Ben Davies and Joe Allen joined by Andy King and Sam Vokes, both of whom will be pretty pleased with their club campaigns. His squad lacks certainly real depth but Chris Coleman will feel that he has a side that can consider itself a contender for a top two spot here and he is likely to relish the derby nature of the clash with the group’s top seeds. A second round spot does not seem unrealistic and if they take it is as runners up, they will get to face another second placed team, possibly Portugal.
How they qualified
Wales removed a 58-year monkey from their backs when they sealed automatic qualification from Group B. Their qualification campaign began with a regulation win over Andorra before a goalless draw with Bosnia and Herzegovina and a home win against Cyprus. Not a bad start, but next up came the first of two vital results against the group big guns, Belgium, Chris Coleman’s side leaving Brussels with a point. Then followed the defining string of results, a 3-0 win in Israel preceded a famous 1-0 win over Belgium in Cardiff and a 1-0 win away at Cyprus. With the line in sight there was a slight wobble, but a 2-0 win at home against Andorra in the final game sealed an automatic spot.
Manager: Chris Coleman
By taking Wales to a major tournament Chris Coleman has already done what every single Wales manager since the great Jimmy Murphy in 1958 has failed to do, and therefore it is not hard to why he has already been rewarded with a contract extension regardless of how things pan out in France. The former Fulham boss has said Euro 2016 must be the starting point for a string of good qualification campaigns, and with a youthful side at his disposal you wouldn’t rule against it.
Star man: Gareth Bale
Who else? Wales’ Galactico and along with Ryan Giggs and John Charles arguably the best footballer the country has ever produced. While Wales are not quite a one-man team, Bale’s contribution to their qualification campaign cannot be overstated. He scored seven goals in 10 games, including the vital winners away at Belgium and Cyprus. Bale’s individual attacking qualities need no introduction but he is a team player while on international duty, and his presence means Wales can say they boast a player of elite quality - something other minnows cannot.
One to watch: Ashley Williams
With all eyes on Bale it is easy to underestimate the importance of Ashley Williams to this Wales side, but the Swansea City centre half is as much their talisman as the Real Madrid forward. Williams is 31 now but seems to be coming into his peak as a defender and was a rock during Wales’ qualification campaign. Swansea have struggled this season but comfortably dodged relegation when for a while they were in a precarious position. Williams’ solidity is a major reason for this and a move to one of England’s top clubs may be on the cards.
Goalkeepers: Wayne Hennessey (Crystal Palace), Danny Ward (Liverpool), Owain Fon Williams (Inverness).
Defenders: James Chester (West Brom), James Collins (West Ham), Ben Davies (Tottenham), Chris Gunter (Reading), Ashley Richards (Fulham), Neil Taylor (Swansea), Ashley Williams (Swansea).
Midfielders: Joe Allen (Liverpool), Dave Edwards (Wolves), Andy King (Leicester), Joe Ledley (Crystal Palace), Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal), David Vaughan (Nottingham Forest), Jonathan Williams (Crystal Palace).
Forwards: Gareth Bale (Real Madrid), Simon Church (Nottingham Forest), David Cotterill (Birmingham), Hal Robson-Kanu (Reading), Sam Vokes (Burnley), George Williams (Fulham).
What President Trump says...
“The Welsh mean nothing to me. Who even are the Welsh? Are they the dragon guys? Hey, I like that Game of Thrones. The mother of dragons is a hot piece of ass.”