Going into Euro 2016, many people will assume that the Welsh team will be all about one man, Gareth Bale. This isn’t necessarily the case as they proved in qualifying for their first tournament in 58 years.
Back in August 2011, Wales had reached an all time low FIFA ranking of 117th. By October they had shot up to 45th in the rankings under the management of the late Gary Speed. At the end of the year Wales were awarded by FIFA the ‘best movers’ of the year having tallied up more ranking points than any other country in 2011.
Fast forward to 2016 and the rise of Welsh football has been a brilliant journey. A lot of the work comes down to Chris Coleman, who had the difficultly of succeeding Gary Speed, who passed away in November 2011. Despite finishing second from bottom in their 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign, the focus of the team really changed after that.
Wales had quite an astonishing qualifying campaign for Euro 2016, finishing second only to Belgium and automatically qualified for only their second major tournament. Naturally the main spearhead and focus of the team was Real Madrid forward Gareth Bale, who managed to shrug off any fitness concerns and play a vital role for Wales. He scored seven goals and got two assists out of their 11 goals in the group.
In defence is where much of the key work happened that Bale wouldn’t have contributed to. In their 10 qualifying games, Wales only conceded a staggering four goals including seven clean sheets, two of which coming against group winners Belgium. For much of the campaign they favoured three at the back, which very much suited the team.
The key man in defence is the captain Ashley Williams, who also captain’s Swansea and has been an instrumental figure for them since they were promoted to the top flight. He was ever-present in defence with the likes of Ben Davis, James Collins and Chris Gunter.
Their one weakness in defence could well be set pieces. In their friendlies since qualifying, they’ve looked weak in dead ball situations against the Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Ukraine and Sweden. Bosnia scored twice from set plays in the only match Wales lost during qualification.
The midfield was also a stable base in front of the defence, especially at crucial times when hanging on for a result. One example being when they beat Cyprus 2-1 at home whilst having to play 43 second half minutes with 10 men. The vice captain Joe Ledley was on hand for most of the defensive duties along with help from other midfielder’s such as Joe Allen and Andy King.
The second most recognisable talent behind Bale in the squad is Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey. He was impressive in qualifying and usually played alongside Bale in an attacking role behind the striker. Despite having the captaincy taken from him in 2012, he remains a key figure. When Coleman originally announced Williams as the new captain to replace Ramsey he said “I’ve no doubt Aaron will be the captain again one day”.
The lack of a renowned Premier League striker is probably the biggest weak link in the Welsh squad. Apart from Bale, the next highest scoring forward was Burnley’s Sam Vokes who managed 15 goals in 43 league appearances as they won the Championship. Coleman tended to use Reading’s Hal Robson-Kanu as his main striker but was never seen as a big goal threat having scored only once in qualifying and netting three goals in 28 league games in the Championship.
There’s no doubt Bale will be the key man for Wales, if he’s on form then the team has every chance of getting out the group which could surprise a few people. Ramsey will also play a vital role in the team’s success and hope that he can link up with Bale to cause the opposition defence real troubles. The back four has also return to how solid they were in qualifying and get over the recent slump they’ve had in their friendlies. I could see them getting out the group if they play to their full potential but would struggle in the knock-out stages.
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