An appearance at a major tournament has been an exceedingly long time coming for Wales – nearly six decades to be precise. Not since the legendary days of the country’s greatest player, John Charles, have the Dragons roared on the international stage.
It was in Sweden at the 1958 World Cup that Wales last mixed it with the big boys. Little would they have known then that it would be another 58 years before they next qualified for a major finals.
A talented squad back then, led by Juventus’ Charles made the quarterfinals only to run into a 17-year-old named Edson Arantes do Nascimento – more commonly known as Pele. Fast forward 58 years, Wales have finally reached the promised land following 28 consecutive failed attempts to make either the World Cup or European Championships.
There have been some ‘ever so nears’ and ‘what ifs’ in the ensuing years, most notably Terry Yorath’s talented squad that fell short of reaching the 1994 World Cup and Mark Hughes’
team that fell to Russia in a play-off to qualify for Euro 2004.Despite an immense feeling of pride, joy and overwhelming relief at putting to rest the decades of hurt for Welsh football, this talented side should not be content with simply representing their nation in France.
They won’t be among the favourites but will fancy their chances of emerging from a group containing old foes England. And, with the likes of Real Madrid superstar Gareth Bale, Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey, Swansea City centre-half Ashley Williams and Liverpool schemer Joe Allen in their ranks, a nation dares to dream. Bale seemed like he was on a one-man crusade in qualifying and in him Wales possess one of the tournament’s most potent individual match-winners.
Wales are a solid team and any side facing them will have to scrap for everything.They are resolute in defence, just four goals conceded in qualifying was bettered only by Romania, Spain and England. They also kept seven clean sheets. Bale is the shining light but they have good players down the spine, including Aaron Ramsey, Joe Allen and Ashley Williams.
Beyond Bale, Wales lack a credible goal threat. The Madrid star scored seven in qualifying, with Aaron Ramsey (two), David Cotterill and Hal Robson-Kanu adding the others, meaning no out-and-out striker found the net. There’s also a chronic lack of depth. Wales have a couple of star names but a number of players in the squad are barely household names at their clubs.
STAR MAN – GARETH BALE
There is no denying that if the Dragons are to fire in France, they are going to need their best player to shine. It’s a good thing Bale, unlike the previous golden boy of Welsh football, Ryan Giggs, always rises to the occasion for his nation. Bale, 26, just 10 caps shy of surpassing Giggs, was instrumental in qualifying, netting seven of Wales’ 11 goals. There’s an argument they are too reliant on their talisman, but when your best player is one of the game’s greatest talents, he’s always going to stand out. He will relish the big stage.
They’ve made their first major tournament in 58 years, but Wales won’t feel they are there to make up the numbers. Getting out of the group will be a triumph, any progress beyond that will be a real fairytale.
Know more about Sport360 Application