Come the updated version of the FIFA World Rankings in July, Wales will join the elite of international football: they’re predicted to be named as one of the top ten teams in the world.
A staggering feat considering they were ranked 117th in 2011. This article will assess the reasons for Wales’ drastic change in fortune, demonstrating the conjecture that Wales are nothing without Bale to be erroneous.
Gary Speed’s passing shocked the footballing world, stimulating widespread melancholy that sparked a tide of commemorations. The former Wales captain was remembered for generating inspiration, respect and admiration, aside from his obvious footballing talent. These virtues translated into the rejuvenation of the faltering Welsh team; Speed took over in December 2011 and despite early set-backs guided Wales to wins against the talented Swiss, industrious Montenegrins and Bulgarians, and a comfortable victory over Norway. This resulted in Wales moving from 117th to 45th in world: the highest movers of 2012.
It is clear that Speed connected with his players, instilling confidence that culminated into wins; indeed, Speed’s father has said that his players would ‘run through bricks for him’. The ex-Leeds man laid the foundations and groundwork for the current blossoming of the Welsh team; he injected a winning mentality, matched with a ferocious determination that breeds success.
The current Welsh squad boasts an abundance of talent, aside from the obvious Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey. Wales’ starting 11 has a strong, envious core that ensures stability. Starting with Wayne Hennessy, the Crystal Palace No.2 has repeatedly illustrated his array of attributes: his shot-stopping skills earned a draw against Bonsia, and more impressively Belgium away. This defensive strength is further constructed by captain Ashley Williams who cuts a domineering, commanding figure; his passion and defensive experience are vital components of Wales’ recent success. Complementing this is the defensive system that Coleman employs: 3 centre backs with two wing-back supporting. Players such as Neil Taylor, Chirs Gunter and James Chester have become permanent fixtures in the team, and have been instrumental in creating such a robust defence. Proof of this is exhibited in the fact that Wales have kept two clean sheets against the attackingly potent Belgium, whilst also cancelling out Bosnia and Israel: only two goals conceded so far in this qualification campaign, the second best defensive record.
Sitting in front of the three centre backs are two holding midfielders, normally occupied by Joe Allen and Joe Ledley. Ledley is your typical ball winner, ever fastidious and un-relenting, providing a platform from which Allen can initiate attacks and dictate the pace of the game. His calm influence and vision have rarely been seen at Anfield, but he always delivers for his national team. This defensive bed rock enables the likes of Ramsey, Robson-Kanu and Bale to flourish; they can play with freedom, safe in the knowledge that they’re protected by the arduous traits of Wales’ defence.
Although Bale cannot be attributed as the central reason for Wales’ recent success, one cannot ignore his tremendous contribution. His two goals against Andorra and Israel, and clinical winner against Belgium mean he is third in the top scorers’ table for this qualification campaign. The Real Madrid forward’s mesmerising runs engender fear into any defender, acting as a catalyst for confidence within the team: team-mates draw inspiration from his work ethic and talent, resulting in a genuine belief that Wales can beat anyone.
This slogan, coined by Welsh kit manufacture Adidas, is now synonymous with Wales; the current squad are closely knit and divisions are seldom. These bonds are forged from years of being together: the majority of the Welsh squad have been playing together for the last five, or six years, and are comfortable in each other’s presence, which materialises into a well-gelled unit on the pitch. This solidarity has generated a perceptible belief that Wales can qualify for a major tournament for the first time in 58 years. Bale’s orchestration of a team huddle, minutes after the final whistle blew in the game against Belgium, illustrates this notion of togetherness, and belief: conviction invariably spawns success.
Anyone who watched Wales’ clash with Belgium will have seen how passionate the Welsh are. The rendition of the Welsh national anthem during the game was of hair-raising, goose-bump initiating substance; of which this writer was lucky enough to experience. Their intense fervour simultaneously spurred on Coleman’s men, whilst intimidating the travelling Belgians. It was a wise decision to remain in the CCS as a move to the Millennium Stadium was discussed. Despite the fact that the CCS boasts a 33,000 capacity, it is still relatively small compared to the towering Millennium and this ‘small-stadium’ essence helped to amplify the support tremendously.
Wales’ recent success has come as a surprise to all, including Welsh supporters. Consistently, Wales have had quality players that are capable of producing success, but this potential is never fulfilled. Currently, this potential is being fulfilled: Speed’s foundation, Coleman’s astute tactics, married with the loyal support and belief within the team have all contributed towards this. Hopefully, Wales can maintain their current levels of success and progress to the EURO 2016: an enormous achievement that will have been cemented in the aforesaid factors.