TEAMtalk takes a look at why Wales could be genuine dark horses for the 2016 European Championships in France.
Chris Coleman’s men qualified for their first major tournament since the 1958 World Cup with a 2-0 defeat to Bosnia on Saturday night and we outline five reasons why Wales, who are 66/1 shots for glory, could go and shock Europe next summer.
- Gareth Bale
It is little wonder headline writers have often referred to ‘Bales’ rather than ‘Wales’. The Real Madrid forward is the talisman of the so-called ‘Golden Generation’, sprinkling stardust wherever he goes. Bale scored six goals in qualifying, including late winners against Andorra and Cyprus and the exquisite finish which floored Belgium. Put simply he is a world-class match-winner and there are not many of those players around, even at the European Championships.
- Strong spine
Bale’s goals have made the difference but a strong spine runs right through Chris Coleman’s side. Wayne Hennessey brings stature and authority in goal and in Euro 2016 qualifying has shown why he was tipped for big things at a young age. Skipper Ashley Williams provides poise, organisation and leadership in central defence and, in midfield, Joe Allen’s ability to keep the ball and Aaron Ramsey’s energy allows Wales to get Bale into areas where he can do maximum damage to opponents.
Wales’ success has been based as much on resolute defence as Bale’s brilliance. They went into the Bosnia game with the best defensive record in Euro 2016 qualifying, having conceded only twice in eight games – one a penalty and the other a free-kick. Bosnia’s opening goal was the first Wales had conceded in 574 minutes of action, the second the first in open play. That defensive organisation will make them hard to beat in tournament football when extra time and penalties often comes into the equation.
- Greece and Denmark
Greece was the word in 2004 when European football hailed an unlikely champion. While the World Cup has been dominated by the traditional super-powers of the game, the European Championship has a history of smaller nations doing well. Denmark took the title in 1992, Greece 12 years later. There is no fear factor with so much analysis done on the opposition and the strides made by smaller nations in preparation and tactical awareness means they often punch well above their weight.
- New boys
Nothing beats your first time, so they say, and Wales will be able to call on an enthusiasm and freshness that few other teams in the tournament will be able to match. Qualification has been such a long time coming that there might be a temptation to just enjoy the ride and not get too tense. But Wales will travel to France with the belief that they can prosper and will have the added bonus of being the underdog in pretty much every game they play.