When you look at a team like Wales, it is quite easy to say that they at least on paper look like a one man team. It is also fairly easy to single out who this single, talismanic figure might be – Gareth Bale. However, Wales stand on the brink of their first qualification for a major tournament in 58 years. Wales also lead a group containing a strong Belgium side and Bosnia and Herzegovina who topped their group in the 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign. Bale might be the key man, but are Wales the real deal?
The Welsh Euro 2016 qualifying campaign did not get off to the best of starts as they travelled to Andorra to play on a very tricky 3G pitch which saw rubber beads go flying through the air every time the ball bounced. This game also saw a quality Gareth Bale free-kick fly in which led to one of the odder pitch invasions I’ve seen and believe me, as a Reading fan, I know a thing or two about mistimed pitch invasions. This pitch invasion and jubilation over beating the almost-ultimate minnows that are Andorra perhaps showed that Welsh fans had no idea just how well they would do in qualifying this time round, and were determined to make the most of any victory they got. It was definitely only just beginning for Wales as they just kept relentlessly picking up results and seemingly improved every time they set foot on a football pitch.
One point that it is very important to not overlook when you are talking about Wales is how organised their defence is. When you look at the other teams topping their groups in the Euro 2016 qualifiers, only Romania have conceded fewer goals than the Welsh in this qualifying campaign. Often, employing wing backs can be a very risky method especially for a team likes Wales who in certain positions don’t even boast platers who play in the top-flight – let alone the World’s elite. However, Chris Coleman has got the Welsh backline looking rigid, strong, and at times impenetrable. This has led to a very impressive 5 consecutive clean sheets for Wales, as well as 6 in their 8 games.
When it comes to goal-scoring, this where Wales become to look more like a one-man team. Gareth Bale has fired in 6 of Wales’ 9 goals that they have scored – including an impressive 3 game-winning strikes. The fact that there are 3 other goal-scorers with just 1 goal each also does not help this argument, as it again just shows how regularly the Real Madrid man is on-hand to take the game by the scruff of the neck and produce a piece of magic to win a match. Gareth Bale thrives in this environment and loves being the main man in a side. He is very comfortable in taking a huge weight on his shoulders – we saw him do it at Spurs, and he is continuing to do it for Wales.
Wales, however, are far from a one-man team. All members of the squad play a critical role in any success that Wales have each and every time they play. The back three is organised and very rarely caught out by anything thrown at them, Wayne Hennessey is a tall and experienced man in between the sticks, and the midfield move the ball seamlessly into the forwards. Hal Robson-Kanu relentlessly goes at the opposition defence, hassling and grafting, and at times causing mayhem among defences with his size and athleticism. You can’t forget the tireless efforts of the wing-backs who tear up and down the length of the pitch endlessly and are always stretching the play. The Welsh fans have also played a key role in this campaign – the Cardiff City Stadium has acted as a fortress for Wales and the travelling faithful have also routinely easily out-sung the home support in away fixtures.
In addition to this, Chris Coleman gets his tactics spot on constantly. It is easy to forget that just two years ago Wales were on the receiving end of some thrashings, including a 6-1 loss to Serbia, and Welsh football was considered to be in crisis. Before his tragic passing, Wales had shown the potential to achieve what they have this campaign under the stewardship of Gary Speed. They were awarded the title of ‘best movers’ in the FIFA rankings in 2011 having picked up more points than any other nation. Although the start of his time as Wales manager was rocky to say the least for Chris Coleman – Wales have found the magic formula and are really making a name for themselves in international football and are at their highest ever point in the FIFA ranking system.
Wales are so nearly there, and just 1 point from their 2 remaining fixtures will see them qualify for Euro 2016 and subsequently their first major tournament since the 1958 World Cup. It would be Wales’ first major tournament in 58 years and who knows; they may even turn a few more heads at the tournament proper if they can carry the standards they have set throughout qualifying into France next year.
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