Five reasons Wales’ Golden Generation can light up Euro 2016
It’s 58 years since Wales last graced a major tournament, but Chris Coleman’s men are keen to make up for lost time.
The Dragons certainly impressed in qualifying, beating Belgium – number two in the FIFA World Rankings – and conceding just four times, en route to an impressive 21 points from 10 games, to finish second in Group B.
With the magnificent Gareth Bale in their ranks, they also boast one of world football’s finest talents. So, here are five reasons they could be one of the sides to watch at Euro 2016.
They’re superb at the back
Belgium have only failed to score twice in their 15 games since the 2014 World Cup. The common denominator in those two games? Wales.
Bale may steal most of the headlines, but the Dragons’ defence is equally as important to their success.
Marshalled by captain Ashley Williams, the Welsh rearguard functioned superbly in both a 3-5-2 and a 5-3-2 system. The side kept seven clean sheets during qualifying, with the likes of Neil Taylor and Chris Gunter providing good service to the Dragons’ front men, from the wing.
Don’t be surprised to see group stage opponents England, Russia and Slovakia struggle to break down one of the most solid defences in world football this summer.
As impressive as Wales’ defence has been, there is no debate about who the side’s star man is likely to be this summer.
Real Madrid broke the world transfer record to bring Bale to the Bernabeu in 2013, and the Cardiff-born winger has continued to develop his impressive footwork, superb set-pieces and knack for finishing in Spain.
That’s been great news for Wales too, with the former Tottenham man netting seven times in qualification and producing a number of inspiring displays – most notably in the gritty comeback win over Andorra, where the winger’s sensational free-kick ensured a 2-1 victory for the Dragons.
However, they’re far from a one-man attack
The myth believed by many football fans is that Gareth Bale is Wales’ only attacking outlet of note, but the stats don’t back that up.
David Cotterill and Hal Robson-Kanu both netted in the victory over Cyprus, while Aaron Ramsey’s goals set the Dragons en route to victory over Israel and Andorra.
Similarly, five different players produced assists for those 11 goals which clinched qualification, including Ashley Richards’ inch-perfect cross which set up Bale for that memorable winner in Cyprus last autumn.
When the going gets tough…Wales get going
Gorau Chwarae Cyd Chwarae. That’s the motto of the Welsh national team, and it roughly translates as ‘the best play is team play’. It’s very apt for a side whose team spirit and resolve has been evident throughout qualifying.
At 1-0 down against minnows Andorra in the opening game, Gareth Bale grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck, aided by a resolute defence and superb service from Tottenham man Ben Davies, with the Dragons eventually claiming the three points.
And against Cyprus, Coleman’s men held onto a narrow 2-1 lead despite having to play the final 43 minutes with 10 men following Andy King’s dismissal. They may boast one of the world’s finest players in Bale, but this is a team in every sense of the word – no superstar egos in sight.
Tactically-astute Coleman knows this side well
The Dragons boss is the longest serving of any of his Group B counterparts, having taken the national post in January 2012. That means he’s likely to have a better measure of his squad’s strengths and weaknesses than the likes of Russia’s Leonid Slutsky, who has only been in charge of the Euro 2008 semi-finalists since last August.
Coleman has abandoned the 4-5-1 formation which underpinned a disappointing set of results in World Cup 2014 qualifying.
Adopting the current 5-3-2 and 3-5-2 systems has enabled the former Fulham boss to build a side which is both defensively sound and – when the time calls for it – offers a significant attacking threat on the wings.
That versatility could prove an invaluable asset as the Dragons look to make their mark in France this summer.
It’s 5/1 that Wales top Group B, with 8/13 for Coleman’s men to qualify from the group.
Meanwhile, Dragons fans can back their team to reach the semi-finals at 16s while it’s 80/1 that captain Williams will be lifting the trophy on July 10.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.