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Past lingers as Coleman prepares to ink new chapter

The memories of a near miss and a departed friend will swirl as Chris Coleman aims to lead Wales to a place in the last-16 of Euro 2016.

Victory over Russia in Toulouse on Monday will guarantee progress to the knockout stages in Wales’ first appearance at a major international tournament since 1958.

That barren run almost came to an end at Euro 2004, only for Wales to miss out in a play-off against Russia for a place at the finals in Portugal.

Coleman was able to eventually break the duck with the help of a talented generation, spearheaded by Real Madrid superstar Gareth Bale.

The side first started to come together under Coleman’s immediate predecessor Gary Speed, who tragically committed suicide in November 2011.

“Speedy’s always in my thoughts but not because of football, I knew Gary since he was 10,” the Wales manager said at his pre-match news conference.

“It’s not just because I’m at a tournament that he’s in my thoughts. He’s in my thoughts as a friend.

“I don’t need a game of football to remind me of Gary Speed. He’s always there.”

Speed played when Wales lost 1-0 to a Vadim Evseev goal in Cardiff to end their Euro 2004 ambitions.

It is a night Coleman recalls all too vividly, but he insists the latest meeting between the two countries has enough at stake already without attempting to label it as a revenge mission.

“I remember, it was heartbreaking and it wasn’t the first time for me – It happened in [qualifying for the 1994 World Cup] against Romania,” he said, recalling Paul Bodin’s infamous penalty miss on the earlier occasion.

“It was heartbreaking, hence the celebrations when we made it this time around.

“But we’re a different Welsh team to that Welsh team then. This is a different Russian team.

“So I can’t say my message to my players is that we’re going to make up for that loss. This is a different era. It’s about now. That was a long time ago.”

He added: “Before the England game there was all the talk and I said ‘let’s just get down to the football’.

“That’s all we’ve ever done. That’s why we’re sitting here. We don’t get bogged down with all the bits and bobs outside of our group. It’s about these players and what they can achieve.”

Sun 19 Jun, 2016
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