Team Profile – Wales
Number of European Championship Appearances: 1
Best European Championship Performance: First Appearance
Number of European Championship titles: 0
Qualifying Form: Played 10 Won 6 Draw 3 Lost 1
Coach: Chris Coleman – appointed January 2012
Most Capped player: Chris Gunter (66 caps)
Key Player at Euro 2016: Gareth Bale
Long Time Coming
Almost fittingly, the greatest night in Welsh football’s modern history ended in defeat. A near 60-year wait for qualification for a major tournament was ended on the night Wales lost in Bosnia, with Israel defeated by Cyprus on the same evening.
It was a joyous occasion for Chris Coleman and his squad, a release of emotion to experience the feeling of international success for the first time.
To suggest Wales’ progress to Euro 2016 was as a result of anything other than their own hard graft however would be churlish.
The loss in Bosnia was the only defeat Wales suffered in ten games. During that run they conceded a miserly four goals despite a competitive group that housed Belgium, Israel, Cyprus and Bosnia-Herzegovina as well as whipping boys Andorra.
Coleman shaped his team to be organised, resolute and compact. They offered very little in terms of encouragement to their opponents – each of whom had to guard against the supreme talents of Wales’ talisman, Gareth Bale.
With an eye on the Euros, the performances most worthy of note from Wales in qualifying were home and away against the Belgians.
Marc Wilmots’ team were held scoreless for 180 minutes while Bale scored the decisive goal in Cardiff that gave his nation three precious points.
Those are the sort of performances Wales must summon in France if they are to mark their first tournament in 58 years in positive style.
No one in the Welsh camp would attempt to deflect from the fact that Real Madrid superstar Bale is the class act in the squad.
Bale’s fitness and well-being are vital for Coleman this summer, no doubt, but there is plenty of substance to this team to complement the winger.
With such a huge level of anticipation, much may depend on whether Wales can settle into their group opener against Slovakia in Bordeaux on June 11.
Unsurprisingly, much hype surrounds the meeting with England in Lens five days later but, arguably, the clash with Slovakia is more likely to influence Welsh hopes of progress.
A positive result there and they can be assured of going into the final game against Russia in Toulouse with hopes of progress intact.
Wales have met Slovakia just twice before. Somewhat bizarrely, both games were won convincingly by the away side, the Slovaks winning 5-1 in Cardiff in their Euro 2008 qualifier before Wales triumphed 5-2 in Trnava.
Wales have never beaten England in ten competitive attempts while they have a similarly poor record against Russia – winning just once in eight meetings.
Given their record against those opponents, it is simply vital that Wales do not suffer stage fright against what is a potentially tricky opponent in Slovakia in their Euro 2016 opener.
As stated, Bale is the headline act in this squad but there are plenty of willing and able deputies to support the world’s most expensive player.
Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey is also an adept goal-poacher from midfield and his ability to support Bale in the final third should prove vital.
Liverpool’s Joe Allen may get his chance to shine with Joe Ledley facing a race to be fit in time for the opening game.
Leicester’s Andy King and David Edwards of Wolves are perhaps the less fashionable but nonetheless effective midfield options Coleman tends to utilise.
At the back, skipper Ashley Williams was ever-present through qualifying. His ability to read the game and make brave tackles under pressure is of paramount importance.
Chris Gunter has bags of experience at right full-back while Ben Davies and Neil Taylor offer options on the opposite side.
Wayne Hennessy of Crystal Palace will start in goal, barring accidents.
Up top, the likes Sam Vokes, Simon Church and Hal Robson-Kanu will battle hard to hassle and harry defenders, all the while hoping that Bale can provide the flash of brilliance needed. Just one of this trio is likely to start.
Key Player – Gareth Bale
Nothing original in this choice. Bale scored seven of Wales’ 11 goals in qualifying. Aside from the winner against Belgium in Cardiff, he also netted decisive late goals in Andorra and Cyprus.
Were it not for Bale, Wales would almost certainly be on a beach this summer.
Bale is a world-class talent, thoroughly deserving of the chance to showcase his skills on this stage – something that eluded the likes of Ryan Giggs before him in a Welsh jersey.
His teammates are willing to make sacrifices and work tirelessly knowing they have a top drawer match winner in their midst.
Bale’s very presence on the field will worry most opposing teams.
Euro 2016 Prospects
This tournament represents a seismic moment for Welsh football, ending as it does the long hoodoo of being in the wilderness when it came to tournament football.
Manager Coleman faces an arduous task of settling the minds of his players enough to allow them to perform to their best.
To date, Coleman has displayed an immense ability to organise his team defensively and thus leave them in a position to benefit from Bale’s brilliance.
They are unlikely to deviate from that stock plan in France. The opening game against Slovakia has the hallmarks of a make or break moment. If Wales can come through that, they will be buzzing for their much talked about dust down with England. Lose the opener, and the pressure may tell.
June 11 – Slovakia, Stade de Bordeaux, Bordeaux
June 16 – England, Stade Bollaert-Delelis, Lens
June 20 – Russia, Stadium Municipal, Toulouse
Goalkeepers: Wayne Hennessey (Crystal Palace), Daniel Ward (Liverpool), Owain Fon Williams (Inverness Caledonian Thistle).
Defenders: Ashley Williams (Swansea City), James Chester (West Bromwich Albion), Ben Davies (Tottenham Hotspur), James Collins (West Ham United), Chris Gunter (Reading), Neil Taylor (Swansea City), Jazz Richards (Fulham).
Midfielders: Joe Ledley (Crystal Palace), Joe Allen (Liverpool), David Vaughan (Nottingham Forest), Jonathan Williams (Crystal Palace), David Edwards (Wolverhampton Wanderers), George Williams (Fulham), Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal), Andy King (Leicester City).
Forwards: Gareth Bale (Real Madrid), David Cotterill (Birmingham City), Hal Robson-Kanu (Reading), Simon Church (MK Dons), Sam Vokes (Burnley).