Wales were the team of the tournament back in 2016 when they made their Euros debut and got all the way to the semi-finals. The likes of Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey dazzled in that tournament and this year’s expectations are high that Wales will once again overcome the Euros odds and go deep into the competition.
Wales’ Euros journey started with a tricky qualifying campaign that they successfully navigated. They finished second on a group involving Croatia, Slovakia, Hungary and Azerbaijan, crucially went undefeated at home and earned a point in Slovakia that edged them into second place. Only three players – Bale, Ramsey and Kieffer Moore – scored more than one goal for Wales during the qualifiers, and in total the team managed just 10 goals across the eight games.
Interim manager Rob Page hasn’t had long to sort out this team. The ex-Sheffield United player took charge of Wales for the first time in November and has proved a success so far. Wales play three at the back, in a 3-4-2-1 or 3-5-2 formation. The idea is to maintain a solid defensive structure and deploy bombarding wingers to aid both the back line and the forwards. Bale and Daniel James have worked well together up front and seem the likely combination for the Euros.
Team spirit made up for the supposed lack of superstar talent in 2016 and this year Wales will again rely on the unity of the camp to get them through the group stage. In Neco Williams, Joe Rodon and Ethan Ampadu they have some exciting young prospects who could catch the eye in this tournament.
The Wales Euro fixtures begin with a clash against Switzerland on 12 June in Baku, before they face Turkey three days later. Wales then fly to Rome for a final group encounter with Italy, after which they will hope to avoid having to jet out to Azerbaijan again. Coming second in Group A could see Wales face Denmark in Amsterdam in the round-of-16.
Yet that is easier said than done. Not only do Wales have two games in a different timezone to the rest of Europe, but they have losing records against both Switzerland and Italy and have never played Turkey before. This tournament is very much an unknown for the Welsh but so was the case in France five years ago. The odds certainly don’t indicate they will be reaching the semi-finals again this summer but Wales will be set on causing an upset or two.
Gareth Bale (c)