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Wales’ hopes for Euro 2016 qualifications: Are the players good enough?

It has been just a little under two months since the 2014 FIFA World Cup concluded and we are slowing getting back into the swing of things as far as International tournaments go. The 2016 UEFA Euros, Brendan Bernegger takes a look at the current Wales squad to see if they will fair as contenders or simply as pretenders.

The tournament has received much scrutiny from critics as there will be 24 participating nations and not the 16 we have seen in the previous editions. This means that smaller nations have the possibility to qualify and make their mark on the tournament. One team which will want to prove its worth is Wales. Since the tournament started in 1960, Wales only made one appearance which was back in 1976 as they maneuvered themselves into the quarterfinals. 38 years later, they will try to accomplish the same feat as a minor talent boom is going on in the country.

Bales Coleman

A poor 5th place finish in their 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying group saw Wales struggle throughout qualifying. Now, “The Dragons” will be looking to rebound and qualify for the 2016 UEFA Euro. They will be joined by a familiar face as Belgium will once again be in their group as Wales will also meet Bosnia and Herzegovina, Israel, Andorra, and Cyprus.

Finishing 5th place for a country that boasts names like Aaron Ramsey, Joe Allen, and most importantly, Gareth Bale will not suffice. Looking back at their qualifying campaign, it’s hard to pin point what exactly went wrong. Before I analyze Wales and its roster, let’s take a quick stroll down memory lane and recap its qualifying group.

Standing in between the posts for Wales will most likely be Wayne Hennessey. The 27 year old is currently at Crystal Palace where he backs up Julian Speroni. Hennessey only played in 2 World Cup qualification games as Boaz Myhill played the majority of games for Wales. In the two games Hennessey played he only gave up one goal and got a clean sheet against Macedonia. Starting Hennessey may be a problem because he doesn’t consistently start in goal, therefore Dundee starter Kyle Letheren would be ready to step in.

The back four could be bound for a bit of a shake up as Ben Davies’ stock is on the rise. The 21 year old just transferred to Tottenham this summer and could possibly replace Swansea left back Neil Taylor. Davies is not the only left back who will be fighting for a place in the squad, Newcastle left back Paul Dummett made his first appearance in the June 4th friendly against Holland, as he played the remaining minutes. All in all, the left back position will be a race between Davies and Taylor with Dummett as a solid third backup.

Further Reading: Outside of the Boot’s Scout Report on Ben Davis a year ago

Meanwhile in the centre we will most likely see the tandem of Captain Ashley Williams, and Hull centre back James Chester. Williams has been a key part of Swansea that saw them winning their first three fixtures in a row this season while conceding just one goal. Chester on the other hand, has picked up where he has left off from last year. The 25 year old has gotten off to a solid start as he scored the winning goal against QPR on the opening day those he did follow that up with direct red card after 14 minutes against Stoke. That aside, he looks to be a part of Steve Bruce’s new look Hull squad.

As far as right back goes, Reading Captain Chris Gunter looks like he has that spot under control. The 25 year old has made 53 appearances so far and is a part of Chris Coleman’s plans for the near future. Speaking of the near future, keep a look out for Declan John, the 19 year old Cardiff City defender could crack his way into the starting XI.

Normally Chris Coleman plays with a 4-2-3-1 balanced formation, thus using two holding midfielders. The people who normally fill the “2” vary but there will be the likes of Joe Allen, Joe Ledley, Andy King, and David Vaughan all in contention to fill those roles. At this point, Joe squared (Allen and Ledley) seem to be the front runners as they have been putting in great minutes on the pitch.

Joe Allen (though currently injured) has been benefiting playing alongside Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson at Liverpool, while Joe Ledley has been suffering from some groin problems. Andy King could come in when the two are absent, the  25 year old Leicester midfielder has maintained a tidy passing rate as the newcomers in the Premier League continue to get impressive results.

Also, keep an eye out for Emyr Huws, and Jake Taylor. Huws is a 20 year old defensive midfielder who completed a transfer to Wigan from Premier League champions Manchester City. The 20 year old serves as a replacement for James McArthur who departed to Crystal Palace. Huws will face some competition in the defensive midfield role, but is capable of getting into the starting XI.

Taylor has been called up to the A-squad for the first time this year after rising through the youth ranks. The 22 year old is currently playing for Reading in the Championship and plays as a right midfielder. While Reading has been struggling, Taylor has been putting in a string of great performances which include a goal in a 1-0 win against Ipswich Town. Watch out for the two players in the near future as Wales may opt for a squad filed with youth.

At the beginning of the 2014 World Cup qualification Aaron Ramsey often dropped back into a role as a holding midfielder, which was also his position for Arsenal throughout the season. Now, Ramsey can sit firmly as an attacking midfielder. In his first two games for Arsenal this year, Ramsey played in that position and scored twice, showing that he is a hybrid midfielder that can play both defensive and attacking midfield. Ramsey scored the game winner versus Crystal Palace and scored a goal against Everton to start a comeback, leading Arsenal to a draw after being 2-0 down with only minutes left.

The lowly 9 goals that were scored during the 2014 World Cup qualification was something that brought the team down heavily. While Ramsey and Bale were firing on all cylinders, they needed offensive help from other players.

Joining Ramsey & Bale along the attacking midfield front will be 20 year old Jonathan Williams. The Crystal Palace man made his first appearance against Scotland as he replaced Gareth Bale and hasn’t looked back since.

After scoring the goal in the Champions League final to blow city rival Atletico out of the water, Gareth Bale has been untouchable. While rival counterparts Messi, Neymar, and Mascherano, had to withstand the brutally long World Cup, Bale had a relaxing summer, gaining back stamina and muscle after the long season. Now he is back with the national team and is the biggest star in the Wales set-up since Ryan Giggs graced the playing field. While Bale will be the main man for Wales, the team can’t rely on him to do everything on his own.

The Bale situation draws similarities to Argentina and their “Messi dependency” throughout the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Both players mean so much to their national teams that without them they struggle for ideas. If Wales wants to have a successful qualification campaign, it needs to ease the pressure off of Bale and play more balanced as a team. This will show that Bale functions better when he has no pressure on him.

Up top Sam Vokes has been sidelinded since has has been battling with an injury that will see him out until at least Christmas time. This means that Simon Church will feature regularly. The 25 year old is currently playing at Charlton Athletic where he is behind Igor Vetokele in the pecking order. Church has scored 2 goals in the 26 appearances for the national team.

To conclude my meanderings, if Chris Coleman can’t get consistent results with this team, then he very well could be facing the sack. It has been tough for Coleman considering not all of his players were healthy at the same time.

If Wales wants to be contenders they have a lot to work on defensively as they need to decrease the amount of goals conceded on their end. Secondly, they need to not ride Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey so much. In addition, make sure players like Joe Allen, Jonathan Williams and Simon Church add more to the team.

If Wales is in contention throughout the next year, that October 10th match against Bosnia could be vital. Wales could snatch 2nd place away, as the talent is there. After cruising through World Cup qualification, Bosnia showed that they can get frustrated and struggle from time to time. Case in point would be the match against Nigeria. After Dzeko’s goal was ruled offside, (even though it wasn’t), Bosnia struggled on all ends of the pitch to get back into the game.

It will be nations like Wales who are licking their chops at the fact that 24 teams will qualify for France 2016.  The first two will qualify directly into the tournament, while the third placed team will go into the playoffs.

The talent is there for Wales, but can the players, and Chris Coleman figure out the puzzle that lies in this team and build a great team for the years to come?

 Written by Brendan Bernegger


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