Welsh football has been in the doldrums for a long time. ”This will be our year” has been stated so often, that now, it is taken with a pinch of salt by the success starved Welsh fans. Dwindling crowds have led to matches being played at the Cardiff City Stadium and even then, the stadium isn’t sold out. How times have changed since Mark Hughes’ Wales team of 2004, came so near to creating history. On that occasion, the Red Dragons very nearly qualified for Euro 2004, but after a start which saw them defeat Italy 2-1, they came up short against Russia, in Cardiff. So were that team any better than the one that Chris Coleman will take to Andorra when Wales start their qualifying campaign for Euro 2014?
The Wales team then included Paul Jones, Mark Delaney, Melville, Gabbidon, Barnard, Koumas, Savage, Speed, Johnson, Giggs, Hartson, Crossley, Edwards, Robinson, Oster and Symons. It is important to stress that the fitness of players has been enhanced since then, in line with the stringent regimes and sports science that encompasses today’s game. Nevertheless, the lack of household names should serve as proof that organisation and team togetherness can outdo superior footballing nations. That is not to say that Wales didn’t have quality, because they did. Gary Speed, Ryan Giggs and John Hartson are the players that spring to mind most.
Signs Of Promise
Gradually the Welsh football team has introduced a raft of youthful promise into the national side which has seen a renaissance in the game. No longer are Wales the whipping boys and no longer is the sole tactic to restrict the opposition. Testament for this should go to the late Gary Speed, who got Wales playing a passing game with youth. The jury is still out on whether his successor has the ability to harness such progress, with Euro 2014 on the horizon. Chris Coleman’s win ratio is disappointing to say the least and he should be replaced should Wales fail to qualify for France. Especially when you consider that twenty four teams can qualify instead of the sixteen that is the usual figure.
Surrounded by players of star quality at club level, Gareth Bale and Christiano Ronaldo’s international football tells a different story. Don’t get me wrong, far from stating that Wales are on a par with Portugal, I am merely stating that the players available to Chris Coleman have similarities to Portugal. The Portugese are ranked eleventh in Fifa’s World Rankings and Wales lie in fourty fourth place. Given his first start in 2008 and amassing 20 in total, Boaz Myhill retired from International Football this year and it looks as though Wayne Hennessesy will take over. For the Seleccao, veteran goalkeeper, Beto, is between the sticks. He had to bide his time though, due to Eduardo and Rui Patricio starting ahead of him in the opening World Cup matches.
Somebody claimed that men can’t multi-task once and they must have forgot about Fabio Contreao when doing so. He is a left back and a winger, bombing forward in support of Nani and demonstration the positional skills, pace and awareness of a Real Madrid player. He is the best in the game by my reckoning. Whereas Portugal have a ready made defender, Wales have a player that could one day be as good. Ben Davies has left Swansea City for Tottenham Hotspur and in doing so, he will show Spurs why they keeping going Welsh. From Cliff Jones to Gareth Bale to Ben Davies, it’s just a matter of time before he is classed in the same bracket .
At the heart of the defence, Ashley Williams is a regular Premier League performer and has the pace and presence to marshall the younger players that accompany him. James Chester scored against QPR this season and the former Manchester United man appears to be a reliable defender on the whole. Glitches were shown up against Stoke although I think the faith Steve Bruce has shown in him says it all.
In midfield, the Mediterranean Country have little and large, in the form of Joao Moutinho and William Carvalho. Both rose to stardome through the Sporting academy system and compliment each other perfectly. Joao is the creative linchpin that enforces the passing style of play that Bento favours. Carvalho is the modern day Patrick Viera, with buckets of energy and tough tackling. In Joe Allen, Wales have a player that is defensive minded and seems to get more pleasure from ball retention than scoring a goal. Ramsey, meanwhile, is the Moutinho of this Wales team-to say he has taken on a new lease of life at Arsenal would be under doing it somewhat. He is more important for Wales than the Gunners and shows this time and time again-aka his late equaliser against Belgium to earn the Dragons a draw.
Hardworking But Vapid Pool Of Attacking Prowess
This is the part that get’s tricky. It is the part where both countries rue the lack of a time machine or for want of a better word, a striker of international quality. Tottenham reject, Helder Postiga has led the line for Portugal as well as a target man can do. So has Hugo Almeida, though neither have the knack of scoring a lorry load of goals. Now it is Eder’s turn to lead the red and green attack.
If Portugal’s front line looked pernicious to an otherwise solid team, Wales’ striker comes in the form of Charlton’s Simon Church. Putting this into some kind of perspective, Church hasn’t started a single Charlton match this season. Should he be included because he runs his socks off every game or should we play the talented Tom Lawrence in a strikers role? Lawrence can play as a striker or as a winger and could be deployed as the main striker or as a supportive winger.
On the other side, Hal Robson Kanu’s pace and goal scoring will be needed to take the weight off Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey’s shoulders. In my opinion, Bale should play as a striker for Wales, alongside Robson Kanu and Lawrence. He may only be sixteen at the moment but Harry Wilson of Liverpool looks an exciting prospect for the future and almost identical to Tom Lawrence. Both players are nippy, display trickery and possess the finishing Wales require.
Absentee Sam Vokes could have acted as the target man for Wales to get higher up the pitch and in this sense it is a shame he is injured, after a prolific season last year. Likewise, Ched Evans could have acted as this type of forward for the national side, although he has more or less ended his career by serving a rape sentence in prison. Broaching this topic, Coleman said that ”normally the manager picks the squad”. ”This one is different though and I would have to discuss it with officials at the FAW”. He went on to say,”If Ched were to return to a club and do well, then it’s a conversation for us to have”. He’s hardly nailing his cards to the mast, is he?
Nani and Ronaldo support Eder as part of a trio of offensive outlets for the Portugese. Being the superstar he is, Ronaldo is the main goal threat for Portugal and Bale is starting to show his prowess in a similar way for Wales. It would be a waste for Wales to play Bale out wide, when we have talents such as the above coming through our ranks. Licensing him to roam as he pleases in and around the oppositions penalty area is where he is most dangerous.
Rather than focusing on their deficiencies, Wales should prey on the fact that they have potentially a midfield in the spanish tiki-taka mould, that is befitting of international football. Aaron Ramsey, Joe Allen, Jonathan Williams, Andy King, Emyr Huws and George Williams make up a platform on which to build. The latter are emerging talents, Huws with Wigan after departing the Etihad stadium and Williams with Fulham. The fact England are monitoring the situation of George Williams illustrates the regard in which he is held. All of the names listed are technically very good footballers and will be asked to push forward in the way that Arsenal’s five man midfield do.
Dashed hopes has been the way that umpteen campaigns has ended for Wales. Not since the 1958 Fifa World Cup, has a Welsh side progressed to a major competition. This time around, it won’t be any easier and it will hinge on how Wales perform against Belgium, Bosnia and Israel. The middle eastern nation shouldn’t be disregarded and showed against the Portugese, they are no pushovers. Eden Ben Basat rifled the ball past the careless Rui Patricio, who had earlier found the forward with a misplaced pass. Subsequently, Ronaldo and co were left to battle it out in a play off that they eventually prevailed in, beating Sweden. All the while, this guards against the theory that Wales are in contest with Belgium and Bosnia alone. The red dragon will need the will power of Costa Rica, the splendour of Gareth Bale and the tactical nous of Chris Coleman. Achieve this and qualification for France will be achievable.