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How have Wales become so good?

Updated on July 7, 2016

By kalkilby, Contributor for Soccerjury


Wales may have bowed out of Euro 2016 with a 2-0 defeat to Portugal, but they have captured the hearts of many of the footballing public - Welsh or otherwise.

For a country that was ranked 82nd in the FIFA World rankings just four years ago, it has been a scarcely believable transformation from tournament outcasts to European heroes.

 And how has a country with just 3 million people manage to perform this footballing miracle? How did this Welsh team become so good?

Ashley Williams celebrates after equalising against Belgium (Telegraph)

Star-dust: Gareth Bale is a superstar and the most expensive footballer in history, ranking only behind Messi and Ronaldo in terms of footballing peers.

And for Wales he is supported by another world class talent in Aaron Ramsey. In Euro 2016, these two players have scored four goals and contributed five assists in the five games they represented their country together.

Ramsey's suspension in the semi-final was keenly felt by the Welsh team, and highlights the importance of having real match-winners in any team. 

This is perhaps the major difference when compared with other nations with similar resources in the tournament, such as ROI, Northern Ireland and Iceland. Wales are hugely fortunate to possess two supreme talents in the same team, who can create or score with a moment of individual genius against any opposition.

Bale beats Joe Hart with a brilliant individual free-kick

Pride and Passion: Shortly before the England-Wales game, eyes twinkling with a broad grin, Gareth Bale boldly stated that:

“We have a lot more pride and passion than England.” He continued. “If you’re Welsh, look at the rugby, we feel more pride and passion than anyone else. It’s one of those things. It’s difficult to explain but we feel that pride and passion.”

Many fans and media accused Bale of either showmanship or baiting their rivals before a big game. Some England players such as Jack Wilshire came out to refute his very suggestions, claiming that English players exhibit equal pride for their own country.

In relative terms such opinions are subject to debate, but it can also be argued that results are a barometer of a talent and passion. Supposedly stronger teams such as England, Spain and Belgium have fallen away by the way-side as Wales have progressed.

Perhaps Bale was right all-along?

Pure unbridled Welsh passion (PA)

Rising from Adversary: Many of the current Welsh squad suffered after the tragic death of former manager and mentor Gary Speed during their formative years as both players and men. Chris Coleman took over a young team that was still mourning a national icon. Performances and results understandably dipped culminating in desperate 6-1 defeat against Serbia in 2012.

This was the current squad’s nadir – the point where they could have allowed themselves to drop into the footballing abyss.

But this team refused to! The players and management hauled themselves up the FIFA rankings and broke into the Top 10 last year - above many of the traditional footballing superpowers.

Over the past 18 months the squad has been unfazed in high-pressure games against Slovakia, Russia and Belgium (several times), absorbing pressure, to emerge with results that brittle teams would not have managed. This says a lot about the mental toughness of the current players and management team.

It is often said that the strongest steel is forged in the hottest fire, and this squad has suffered more than most. This Wales team have used their negative experiences to galvanise themselves, becoming the only Welsh team in history to appear in the semi-finals.

Coleman's darkest hour in football came after being thrashed by Serbia (Walesonline)

Game-Plan: The best managers will implement a footballing philosophy that allows the team to function efficiently and raise the game of the individual players.  

In the past year, Leicester City, Wales and Iceland have all stuck to a particular system that the players have bought into, and how they have reaped the rewards. Conversely, Hodgson’s England has been maligned for exhibiting no obvious game-plan, and this was no more apparent after their tournament hopes ended in ignominy against Iceland.

Chris Coleman must take great credit by implementing a 5-3-2 wing-back system that has suited his Welsh players. This system has allowed his players to gain confidence in their game, resulting in better and better performances over the past 18 months, and now translating into tournament success.

A game-plan and settled squad has allowed players such as Robson-Kanu to shine

Golden Generation: Gareth Bale would not have been able to get to the Euro semi-finals on his own. Wales have dispelled any notions of this being a one-man team and there is genuine spine throughout this side.

Aaron Ramsey and the effervescent Joe Allen are allowed to showcase their talent, by having a solid defensive unit behind them led by captain Ashley Williams, James Chester and Ben Davies. And much of the remainder of the current Welsh squad have Premier League experience.

This depth of talent and experience is a luxury for Welsh football, often blessed with attacking talent (who can forget the talent of Ian Rush and Mark Hughes in the 80’s yet destined never to appear in a major tournament), but forced to select players as low as the English conference for defensive duties. Such an uneven and sporadic talent pool has perennially inhibited Wales in the qualification rounds.

Pundits have trumpeted Belgium’s golden generation – and now they are whispering the same of Wales.

Wales golden generation celebrate together after beating Belgium (BBC)

Together Stronger: This Welsh team are in-sync with their mantra of #togetherstronger.

The squad has been described as a band of brothers (no chance here of mutinies that the French and Dutch often monopolise in tournaments). Lesser stars such as Hal Robson Kanu, Jonny Williams and Chris Gunter have thrived in this close-knit group, displaying performances above their supposed abilities. And this has led to the team as a whole playing on a higher plane compared with the sum-of-their-parts.

Also, the genuine affection held by the fans for the players is clear to see (bought only closer with victories and of course Joe Ledley’s interpretive dance routines). And when haven’t the players and management staff celebrated as one? There are no egos, no outsiders, only togetherness.

When was the last time England could claim the same?

#Togetherstronger (Walesonline)

Despite exiting Euro 2016, many of the footballing superpowers at club and country level would be well served to learn from the Red Dragons.

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Robbie Ackerman

Great article. I'm not Welsh, but come on Wales!

July 5 at 10:17pm Reply | Flag

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