Wales have qualified for their first ever European Championships. Do they have Gareth Bale to thank for this, or does the strength of their squad go deeper than just one man? Let’s take a look…
Route to Euro 2016
Wales made history by finishing in second place to Belgium in Qualifying Group B. In doing so, they are on their way to their first ever Euros and their only major tournament since 1958.
Their only loss during qualifying was against Bosnia away, during which they went down 2-0. They drew three, and won six; this included a 1-0 home victory over top-ranked Belgium.
While Gareth Bale netted seven of their 11 goals, the one-man jibes proved unfounded. Indeed, excellent performances from Ashley Williams, Aaron Ramsey, Ashley Williams, Joe Allen, Wayne Hennessey, and Neil Taylor helped to ensure their place in the finals.
Wales haven’t qualified for the Euros before, but they came very close in 1976 when they came top of their group. Yet the Welshmen lost to Yugoslavia in a preliminary round before the four-team competition proper.
They were also unlucky in the qualifiers for Euro 1984, 1988 and 1992, for which they were drawn into tough groups.
Chris Coleman became Wales’ manager in 2012 after the tragic death of Gary Speed. Coleman began his managerial career at Fulham in 2003 and led them to a ninth-place finish a year later.
When forced to sell key players, he began to struggle and a run of seven matches without a win resulted in him getting the sack in April 2007.
An unsuccessful few months with Real Sociedad was followed by two years at the helm of Coventry City. During this time, the Midlands club finished 17th and 19th in the Championship.
After facing the sack once again, Coleman spent six months as head coach with Larissa in Greece. Within a week of resigning and coming home, he was offered the Wales job.
Despite nearly a decade of failure, Coleman is now rewarding the Welsh FA’s faith in him with proof of his talent for the role.
Most important player
Real Madrid paid £85 million for Gareth Bale in 2013, which makes him the world’s most expensive player. While some claim to see evidence of his decline at club level, Bale has put in sensational performances for his country.
Bale’s sublime pace makes his hard work on the pitch look effortless. His speed combined with his skill on the ball allows him to overstretch opposing midfields and devastate defences.
His ease in the red shirt lies in stark contrast to his apparent unease in Madrid. With this in mind, watching Wales gives us all a chance of seeing him at his best.
Crystal Palace’s Jonny Williams spent the last few seasons on loan at Ipswich, Nottingham Forest and MK Dons.
However, this says more about the quality of Palace players like Yohan Cabaye, James McArthur, Bakary Sako and Mile Jedinak than it does about their fellow midfielder, Williams.
Indeed, the 22-year-old Williams has great passing ability. He can hit accurate long balls and makes menacing runs.
Moving into the number 10 role for Wales when Bale doesn’t play, his runs and vision are of constant threat to opposing defences.
The 1-0 home win over Belgium shows that Wales’ rise may be sustainable. While having one of the world’s best players in their squad helps, they are much more than just a one-man band.
So while we predict that Wales will come third in their group, the short 4/6 odds we offer on their reaching the next round, shows that we are far from sure of this.
We predict a good fight for second place between Wales and Russia.