Down the years the story of the Wales national football team has been one of close calls and heartbreak. However, all those years of near misses could be forgotten, as the Dragons close in on qualification for Euro 2016.
Wales are just two wins away from securing their place in France for next year’s competition, as Chris Coleman’s side prepare for a visit to Cyprus this evening.
A win in Cyprus and then a victory at home to Israel next week will seal the Dragons place in their first major international tournament since the 1958 World Cup in Sweden.
Wales are no longer whipping boys in world football. In fact they are now up to ninth in the FIFA world rankings, their highest ever ranking. It is an incredible rise considering that just four years ago the Dragons were as low as 111th in the same rankings.
That incredible rise up the ranking has been aided by Chris Coleman’s side remaining unbeaten in Group B of the European Championships qualification.
The Dragons have won four of their six qualification games so far and drew two in a group that contains the highly-rated Belgian’s, who were expected to comfortably qualify from the group with little difficulty.
Wales have defied the odds by topping the group and are now tantalising close to sealing their place amongst the European elite in France next summer.
One of the key’s to Wales success in this qualification campaign has been the sheer quality of Real Madrid star Gareth Bale. The world’s most expensive player has proved his quality by scoring five of Wales eight goals in qualifying.
Bale is the catalyst for everything good about Wales. The Dragons have had star players in the past, but never has one taken such responsibility for their team’s performances and results.
The 26-year-old may have come in for criticism at club side Real Madrid, but few could criticise the former-Spurs stars performances for his country. Bale seems to return to the form that saw him earn a world-record move to the Spanish capital in Welsh shirt, while in club football he has struggled.
When he plays for his country Bale seems to enjoy the responsibility of being the main man and performs accordingly.
Bale is not the only player who has top level quality though. Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey is another player who has the quality to make the difference at international level. Ramsey has enjoyed a slow start to the Premier League campaign, but could be a key player in Cyprus.
Although the two star players may be important, it is the fact that Chris Coleman has the Dragons playing as a team that has them so close to qualifying for Euro 2016.
Wales improvement was implemented by the now sadly-deceased Gary Speed and Coleman has continued that improvement. The team often seem more than the sum of their parts and that is why they have been successful in recent months.
Cyprus could be a dangerous opponent for Chris Coleman’s side this evening, as they are still very much in contention for their first ever qualification for an international tournament.
In past campaigns the Cypriots may have been regarded as pushovers, but this campaign they have taken nine points from six games, leaving them just two points behind second place Belgium. This is also a crucial game for the hosts.
Coleman’s team are favourites to emerge from Cyprus with a victory at odds of 4/5, but must be wary of complacency.
Group B is massively open and any of the top five teams could realistically qualify, or at least earn a play-off spot. Wales will be hoping to avoid having to play in the play-offs, having suffered heartbreak at that stage of major international tournaments in previous years.
In football terms Wales is a small country and football has to share the attention of the Welsh fans with rugby, which is arguably the national sport of the country.
It would be fantastic to see Wales compete at an international tournament. Former Welsh greats like Neville Southall, Kevin Ratcliffe, Ian Rush and Ryan Giggs all missed out on the experience of representing their country at major tournaments.
I just hope that Wales complete the job and qualify, so that Gareth Bale will not be added to that long list of Welsh alumni to have never played at a major international tournament.
Will Wales qualify for Euro 2016?