Welsh football fans must have been pinching themselves at times during the 2016 European Championships. Chris Coleman led the side all the way to the semi-finals of the competition before they lost to eventual champions Portugal. It was a remarkable journey which included a memorable quarter-final victory over Belgium – one of the tournament favourites.
Wales recently secured their qualification for Euro 2020 with a gutsy win over Hungary in Cardiff. The match was a straight shoot-out for automatic qualification, with Hungary in second place and Wales in third before the game began. Manager Ryan Giggs and his side were able to summon a performance that brought back memories of the team’s Euro 2016 success. After missing out on the 2018 World Cup, Wales will be keen to give a strong showing at the Euros next summer.
The Giggs factor
Giggs had a tough act to follow when he took the job following the departure of Chris Coleman. The former Manchester United winger had no significant managerial experience aside from being an assistant at Old Trafford, and the early days of his reign were difficult. Defeats to Croatia and Hungary meant Wales struggled to build momentum in their Euro 2020 qualifying group.
But Giggs has gradually turned the tables, and Wales now look a lot more like the team that reached the semi-finals of Euro 2016. Their form in the latter qualifiers was impressive, drawing with Croatia and beating Azerbaijan and Hungary to secure automatic qualification.
Giggs was never able to play for Wales in a major international tournament, so the chance to right those wrongs in his managerial position will provide him with extra motivation. He has won pretty much all there is to win as a club player for Man United and will be hoping that experience rubs off on his players.
Although Wales will be outsiders in betting on UEFA Euro 2020, the fact that Giggs has now settled into the role means they are in a good place to take a stab at further international success.
Redemption for Bale?
Gareth Bale has endured a rather difficult time at Real Madrid in recent times. He is out of favour with Coach Zinedine Zidane and has struggled for playing time. There were rumours in the summer transfer window that Bale would be on the move, but a transfer never materialised.
He has found more joy in the international setup, where he remains a key figure in the team. He was instrumental in Wales’ run to the semi-finals in 2016, scoring in all three group games. He is a natural leader in the team and is undoubtedly an inspiration to the younger players in the squad.
Euro 2020 offers Bale the chance to re-establish himself among the game’s elite players. There has never been any doubting his ability. The 2018 Champions League final was evidence of his star quality as he scored two goals, including a sensational bicycle kick, to help Real Madrid to a 3-1 win over Liverpool.
While the last couple of years have been disappointing at club level, a major international tournament is the perfect opportunity for someone like Bale to demonstrate that they are still a force to be reckoned with in world football.
A strong showing from the 30-year-old next summer will be vital if Wales are to be successful in the tournament. He will be motivated to emulate the success of 2016 and prove on a personal level that he can still mix it with the world’s best on the international stage.
Wales will have their work cut out if they are to match their achievements in the last European Championships, but that experience will drive the players on to seek further success. Welsh supporters will be looking forward to another great summer of international football, and you can forgive them for dreaming that their team might go one better next summer and reach the final.
Published by Samantha Brown