Wales sealed a place at next year’s European Championship in France on Saturday night, despite the fact they were defeated 2-0 against Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The Dragons made it through to France because of Israel’s shock 2-0 loss against Cyprus.
It is the first time in nearly sixty years that Wales have made it to a major championship. The last time they made it to a major tournament was in 1958 when they played at the World Cup in Sweden.
Jimmy Murphy’s side made it to the quarter-finals of that tournament, only to be knocked out by Brazil and a 17-year-old Pele.
Next year’s tournament will also be the first time the Welsh have ever participated at a European Championships.
Wales as a football nation has suffered some terrible heartbreaks in the past. They have lost play-offs and generally been poor in qualification campaigns. Their rise to qualification is quite incredible considering that they were struggling to compete just a few short years ago.
Boss Chris Coleman has done a sterling job building on the work done by the late Gary Speed, who seemed to instil a new sense of belief in the Welsh team.
Coleman was often maligned as a club boss, but he deserves immense credit for this achievement, as many Welsh bosses have tried and failed to make it to the big international competitions.
He does not have the greatest squad in the world, although he does have the likes of Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey who play for big clubs, and also the ever dependable Ashley Williams who has been fantastic at the back throughout the qualification campaign.
Coleman has built a very capable team from a very small pool of players, albeit around one world-class player in Bale. The sign of a good coach is to make a team more than a sum of its individual parts and Coleman has done just that.
Sometimes a team has a player who somehow helps lift the players around him. He drags the team to victories and everybody looks to for inspiration. Gareth Bale is that player for Wales. With the Welsh national side it seems like he enjoys his football more than at Real Madrid.
He looks more like the player who took the Premier League by storm in his final year before moving to La Liga. Bale seems to thrive on the pressure of being the main man with the Wales team.
At Real Madrid he has to compete with Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, amongst others for attention and adulation.
Bale was recently crowned Welsh Player of the Year for a record fifth time and it was hardly surprising considering the effect he has had on his team during the Euro 2016 campaign.
The Real Madrid star was obviously elated at qualification. He said after sealing qualification: “This is probably the best loss of my life,”
“This was a dream of mine and we’ve done it. As you can see everyone is delighted.
“This is right up there. This was one of my dreams to do and obviously growing up as a young boy everyone dreams of playing in a major tournament. To achieve it here is a dream come true.”
The next challenge for Bale, Coleman and co. is to prepare for the European Championships in France. They have shown in qualifying that they are no pushovers and will head to the tournament in high spirits.
Qualifying for the championships is just the first challenge the Welsh team will face. The biggest challenge lies ahead in France. At the moment I would not back against Wales qualifying for the knockout stages of competition, such is the momentum gained by their performances in qualifying.
With a player like Gareth Bale in their team they will always have a chance of collecting a victory or two at the European Championships.
How will Wales fare at the European Championships?
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